Build like a Shell

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In the Self-Organizing Matter lab at AMOLF find all the things I need to work on my micro-scale Interactive Building Experiments.

As life is inherently chemical, I like to brew primordial soups and observe the growth of architectural structures and strange landscapes within these mineral-organic soups. I play with the emergence and transformations of (life-like) shapes, studying the boundaries that create insides within outsides, just like our houses do, and our identities. Various microscopes at AMOLF allow me to enlarge and study these microscopic shapes.

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Liquid-solid interface

The Ocean, the magma chamber, the Erlenmeyer flask of the scientist, the privileged space that marine organisms create to form their shells, the womb; all examples of contained fluids in which erratically moving elements are -often under manipulated circumstances- transformed into intricately ordered materials with unique properties: (bio)minerals; rocks, crystals, bones, external skeletons, shells, teeth.

Biominerals are formed at the cross-section of living and dead matter, an attempt of life to create order amid the random motions of elements in fluids and gasses, forming solid objects within and around the body, that remain preserved after death. Dissolution-reprecipitation reactions, occurring at the interface between liquid and solid, embody the idea that elements in our environment are rarely in a steady state, yet take part in an endless and delicate dance.

The human brain tends towards decreasing entropy; hence we create mental models of distinct features in our environment, such as the ocean, the atmosphere and the rock. Simultaneously, we are aware that elements are constantly moving between physical states, such as ice and water, and re-cycling in biogeochemical cycles.

For instance, in the rock cycle, sand grains and (bio)minerals precipitated from seawater settle down on the seafloor, are compacted and metamorphosed into rocks (used to build pyramids), uplifted to form mountains and eroded into sand grains (used to make concrete) and dissolved minerals, ultimately reaching the ocean again. These cycles, taking place at the nanometre-scale as well as spanning geological deep-time, are intertwined with the evolution of life, yet go beyond spatial and temporal scales of the human perception.

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In the lab, I am growing my intuitions on precipitating (growing) minerals from solutions. Different polymorfs (shapes of crystals consisting of same elements, showing a different form/ crystal structure) emerge when changing the conditions of the solution: pH, temperature, presence of inhibitors and seeds.

I'm studying how crystals grow and dissolve into various shapes as an analogy for many other systems in which shapes emerge and dissolve within an environment, such as bodies within the biosphere, thoughts and dreams within (interacting) minds and cities within landscapes. Within these processes, I am interested in the role of entropy, self-organization and attempts to exert control from within these systems.

Above images: crystals grown out of breastmilk floating within a solution. One below and to the left: Magnesium Calcites grown under the influence of my breath

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Precipitating and Dissolving Crystals within Solutions

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Magnesium Calcites and Corrosion

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Magnesium Calcites and Sperm Cells

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Blood Cells and Calcite

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Landscape with Magnesium, Calcium, CO2 from my breath and a forgotten breastmilk experiment.

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