Molding Mineral within Microporous Hydrogels by a Polymer-Induced Liquid-Precursor (PILP) Process

Authors

  • Xingguo Cheng,

    1. Materials Science and Engineering Department, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611
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  • Laurie B. Gower

    Corresponding author
    1. Materials Science and Engineering Department, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611
    • Materials Science and Engineering Department, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611. Tel: 352–846–3336. Fax: 352–392–6359
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Abstract

Natural biominerals often have exquisite morphologies, where the cells exercise a high degree of crystallographic control through secretion of biological macromolecules and regulation of ion transport. One important example is the sea urchin spine. It has recently been shown to be formed through deposition of a transient amorphous calcium carbonate (ACC) precursor phase that later transforms to single-crystalline calcite, ultimately forming an elaborate three-dimensional microporous calcium carbonate structure with interconnected pores. Macromolecules associated with the mineral phase are thought to play a key role in regulating this transformation. The work described here mimics this type of morphological control by “molding” an amorphous calcium carbonate precursor within a porous poly(2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate) (PHEMA) hydrogel that has been prepared as a negative replica from the void space of an urchin spine. Using an acidic biomimetic polymer as a process-directing agent, we show that polyaspartic acid induces amorphous calcium carbonate (ACC) nanoparticles, which have fluidic character and therefore are able to infiltrate the PHEMA hydrogel replica and coalesce into the convoluted morphology that replicates the original microporous structure of the sea urchin spine. By “molding” calcium carbonate into a complex morphology at room temperature, using a precursor process that is induced by a biomimetic acidic macromolecule, the PILP process is a useful in vitro model for examining different aspects of the amorphous-to-crystalline transformation process that is apparently used by a variety of biomineralizing organisms. For example, although we were able to replicate the overall morphology of the spine, it had polycrystalline texture; further studies with this system will focus on controlling the nucleation event, which may help to elucidate how such a convoluted structure can be prepared with single-crystalline texture via an amorphous precursor. Through a better understanding of the mechanisms used by organisms to regulate crystal properties, such biomimetic processes can lead to the synthesis of materials with superior electronic, mechanical, and optical properties.

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