This is the first lecture in a series of three lectures by Debye Visiting Chair Joanna Aizenberg from Harvard University.
Nature produces a wide variety of exquisite mineralized tissues fulfilling diverse functions, and often from simple inorganic salts. Organisms exercise a level of molecular control over the physico-chemical properties of inorganic crystals that is unparalleled in today’s technology. This reflects directly or indirectly the controlling activity of biological organic surfaces that are involved in the formation of these materials. Biomineralization occurs within specific microenvironments, which implies stimulation of crystal formation at certain interfacial sites and relative inhibition of the process at all other sites. Our approach to artificial crystallization is based on the combination of the two latter concepts: that is, the use of organized organic surfaces patterned with specific initiation domains on a sub-micron scale to study and orchestrate the crystallization process. This bio-inspired engineering effort made it possible to achieve a remarkable level of control over various aspects of crystal nucleation and growth, including the precise localization of particles, nucleation density, crystal sizes, morphology, crystallographic orientation, arbitrary shapes, microstructure, stability and architecture. The ability to construct large, defect-free, micropatterned single crystals with controlled microporosity; periodic arrays of uniform, oriented crystals or films presenting patterns of crystals offers a new synthetic methodology to materials engineering.