Pre-Crystal Clusters

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Science  19 Dec 2008:
Vol. 322, Issue 5909, pp. 1753
DOI: 10.1126/science.322.5909.1753d

It is very hard to study the earliest stages of crystallization, when nuclei form from the stable clustering of a sufficient number of atoms, molecules or ions. Gebauer et al. (p. 1819; see the Perspective by Meldrum and Sear) present data that imply that calcium carbonate forms stable neutral ion clusters prior to nucleation. These clusters form prior to the formation of an amorphous calcium carbonate phase, which had been thought of as the precursor material used by organisms to grow large, complex single crystals. These findings have implications not only for the understanding of the crystallization of calcium carbonate, but also for the better understanding of the mass transport of calcium carbonate in the formation of scales, biological deposits, and sediments.

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