Electron transparent nanotubes reveal crystallization pathways in confinement

JM Galloway and ZP Aslam and SR Yeandel and A Kulak and MA Ilett and YY Kim and A Bejarano-Villafuerte and B Pokroy and RM Drummond-Brydson and CL Freeman and JH Harding and N Kapur and FC Meldrum, CHEMICAL SCIENCE, 14, 6705-6715 (2023).

DOI: 10.1039/d3sc00869j

The cylindrical pores of track-etched membranes offer excellent environments for studying the effects of confinement on crystallization as the pore diameter is readily varied and the anisotropic morphologies can direct crystal orientation. However, the inability to image individual crystals in situ within the pores in this system has prevented many of the underlying mechanisms from being characterized. Here, we study the crystallization of calcium sulfate within track- etched membranes and reveal that oriented gypsum forms in 200 nm diameter pores, bassanite in 25-100 nm pores and anhydrite in 10 nm pores. The crystallization pathways are then studied by coating the membranes with an amorphous titania layer prior to mineralization to create electron transparent nanotubes that protect fragile precursor materials. By visualizing the evolutionary pathways of the crystals within the pores we show that the product single crystals derive from multiple nucleation events and that orientation is determined at early reaction times. Finally, the transformation of bassanite to gypsum within the membrane pores is studied using experiment and potential mean force calculations and is shown to proceed by localized dissolution/reprecipitation. This work provides insight into the effects of confinement on crystallization processes, which is relevant to mineral formation in many real-world environments.

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