The Loh Down On Science

Making beautiful art with chemistry

Wim L. Noorduin, Harvard University, 2013.

These false-color SEM images reveal microscopic flower structures created by manipulating a chemical gradient to control crystalline self-assembly.

Better art through chemistry?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Meet Harvard researcher Wim Noorduin.  He was inspired by precipitation reactions. These are chemical reactions in which two or more substances, dissolved in liquid, bond to form a solid. Kidney stones are formed by precipitation reactions. So is limescale, that white crust on your shower head.

Noorduin used precipitation reactions to create intricate, microscopic flowers.  How?  Fill a beaker with a solution whose two main chemical components readily precipitate out and form crystals.  Add a glass slide for them to glom onto.  Now pulse with carbon dioxide.  This fuels the growth of Crystal A, but stunts Crystal B.  But as A literally runs out of gas, B takes over.  Want more A?  Add more CO2.  Guiding the relative growth of each, you can make any shape under the sun.  Drop the temperature to boost crystal density and beef up creations.  Noorduin's nano-flowers were complete with leaves, petals–even itty-bitty vases!
 
The work could lead to the prettiest nanoelectronics and optics devices you've ever seen!
 
And the tiniest Mother’s Day bouquet ever!  Oh well, it’s the thought that counts.

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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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