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Particle-mediated origins of mesocrystallinity in calcium sulfate single crystals

Calcium sulfate minerals are abundant in natural and engineered environments in the form of three phases: gypsum (CaSO4·2H2O), bassanite (CaSO4·0.5H2O), and anhydrite (CaSO4). Due to their relevance in natural and industrial processes, the formation pathways of these phases from aqueous solution have been the subject of intensive research. A number of studies have already revealed that nucleation in the CaSO4-H2O system is non-classical, where the formation of the different crystalline phases involves several steps including a common amorphous precursor.

In this contribution we show that the formation of the amorphous phase involves the aggregation of small primary particles into larger disordered aggregates exhibiting a "brick-in-the-wall" structure. The actual crystallization occurs by the restructuring and coalescence of the particles ("bricks") into a given calcium sulfate phase depending on the physicochemical conditions of the solution. Such a process yields a final imperfect mesocrystal, composed of smaller domains rather than a continuous single crystal structure.

These observations reveal that organic-free calcium sulfate mesocrystals grown by a particle mediated-pathway might preserve in the final crystal structure an “imprint” of their growth pathways. Indeed, by considering large anhydrite crystals from the famous Naica Mine we observed a suite of correlated self-similar void defects spanning multiple length-scales. These flaws, in the macroscopic crystal, stem from “seeds of imperfection” originating from an original particle-mediated growth. Hence, building a crystal could be viewed as Nature stacking blocks in a game of Tetris, whilst slowly forgetting the games core concept and failing to fill rows completely.


Tomasz Maciej Stawski1, Alexander E.S. Van Driessche2
1Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und -prüfung (BAM), Germany; 2Instituto Andaluz de Ciencias de la Tierra (CSIC-University of Granada)
GeoMinKöln 2022