Surface Wetting Controls Calcium Carbonate Crystallization Kinetics


Because of the widespread presence of foreign substrates in natural settings, mineral precipitation usually occurs via heterogeneous nucleation. This process is controlled by the interplay between the fluid supersaturation and interfacial energies present between the fluid, nucleus, and substrate. Among a number of physicochemical parameters, the surface wetting properties have been shown to be a key parameter controlling heterogeneous nucleation. The present study aims at elucidating the pathway and kinetics of CaCO3 heterogeneous nucleation on a set of phlogopite micas with and without fluorine/hydroxyl substitutions, yielding substrates with contrasting hydrophilicity. Our results show that, irrespective of surface wetting properties, amorphous calcium carbonate (ACC) is formed during the early stages. The surface wetting properties have a strong effect on the crystallization kinetics: ACC precipitates persist longer on the hydrophilic (hydroxylated) surface than on the less hydrophilic (fluorinated) one. We show that this stabilization could have a thermodynamic origin because of the lower interfacial free energy between the hydrated amorphous precursor and the hydrophilic substrate. These results are highly relevant for biomineralization studies, where differences in wetting properties of organic moieties present in calcifying organisms could be used to accelerate or decelerate the crystallization of the initially formed amorphous precursor phase.

Chemistry of Materials