An international team of scientists has shown for the first time that living organisms are able to manufacture biominerals with organization of up to eight levels. The research focused on the skeleton of Mediterranean red coral. This coral, shown on the photography made by Joaquim Garrabou, has a crystalline order that is almost perfect at nanometric scale and could help in the development of new materials.
“This research into red coral shows for the first time that biominerals (minerals synthesised by living beings) display a crystalline order made up of up to eight hierarchical levels of modules”, explains Joaquim Garrabou, co-author of the study and a biologist at the CSIC Institute of Marine Sciences, “each module is made up of other smaller ones, and is in turn a component of other larger ones”.
The study, published in the journal American Mineralogist, was led by researchers from the Marseilles Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Centre (France), with collaboration from the California Institute of Technology (United States). The work focuses on red coral (corallium rubrum), an invertebrate that lives in the rocky depths of the Mediterranean and Western Atlantic.
Nanotechnology and nanoscience have certainly been one of the most popular fields of research in the last decade. Manufacturing processes are now able to carry out the deterministic synthesis of nanostructures with properties radically different from their macroscopic forms, enabling the realization of previously unthinkable devices. Despite these advances, few nanofabrication techniques feature the required characteristics for the commercial manufacturing of these new products in an effective fashion since they are either too slow, or too expensive and complex.
This page is a summary of my doctoral thesis project, accomplished at the Laboratory for multiscale mechanics at the École Polytechnique de Montréal (LM2, mechanical engineering). The main objective of this project was to develop a new manufacturing technique allowing the local synthesis of nanostructures on a surface for their eventual integration into nanodevices. The desired process has to be selective, reproducible, versatile, simple, fast and inexpensive for potential industrial utilization. Moreover, the manufacturing process must have a minimal environmental impact for sustainable development.
To implement the required specifications, a laser process combining the characteristics of laser-induced chemical liquid deposition (LCLD) and of sol-gel synthesis was proposed. The technique is very simple and consists of three steps. A precursor solution is first prepared. Next, a droplet of a controlled volume is transferred on a substrate by means of a micropipette. The droplet is then irradiated using a laser emitting in the infrared to induce the fast synthesis of nanostructures.