Reactive replacement and addition of cations in bioclastic silica and calcite
Allan, Shawn Michael
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Numerous organisms produce ornately detailed inorganic structures (often known as shells) with features on length scales from 50 nm to several centimeters. One class of such organisms are the diatoms; microscopic algae that form silica frustules. Another group of algae, the coccolithophorids, produce similar calcium carbonate structures. Over 100,000 species comprise these two classes of algae, every one of which is endowed with a unique cytoskeleton structure. Using various types of displacement reactions, the chemistry of the original structure can be modified to produce a new material. Magnesium vapor has been found to displace the silicon in diatom frustules to yield an MgO structure. The conversion has been reported at temperatures from 650°C to 900°C. In the current work, the conversion and processing of silica frustules to MgO was examined in depth. The effect of reaction temperature on grain size and extent of conversion was evaluated. With the goal of obtaining high purity MgO structures, various methods for removing the silicon products of reaction were investigated. Wet chemistry and high temperature vapor etches were evaluated. The MgO reaction served as an intermediate step in the production of magnesium tungstate diatoms, which were imbued with photoluminescent properties. Reactions were identified to allow the conversion of calcium carbonate (calcite) structures to alternative chemistries. Calcite sand-dollars were converted to calcium tungstate or calcium molybdate by aqueous solution chemistry. In this process, sand dollar tests (shells) and coccolithophore frustules were reacted with ammonium para-molybdate or ammonium para-tungstate. The reactions were evaluated for shape preservation, phase purity, and photoluminescence of the structures.