Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Scientific Community
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

Computer Simulations Indicate Calcium Carbonate Has a Dense Liquid Phase

Published: Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Last Updated: Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Bookmark and Share
Berkeley Lab research could help scientists predict how carbon is stored underground.

Computer simulations conducted at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) could help scientists make sense of a recently observed and puzzling wrinkle in one of nature’s most important chemical processes. It turns out that calcium carbonate—the ubiquitous compound that is a major component of seashells, limestone, concrete, antacids and myriad other naturally and industrially produced substances—may momentarily exist in liquid form as it crystallizes from solution.

Calcium carbonate is a huge player in the planet’s carbon cycle, so any new insight into how it behaves is potentially big news. The prediction of a dense liquid phase during the conversion of calcium carbonate to a solid could help scientists understand the response of marine organisms to changes in seawater chemistry due to rising atmospheric CO2 levels. It could also help them predict the extent to which geological formations can act as carbon storage reservoirs, among other examples.

The research is published in the August 23 issue of the journal Science. It was performed in support of the Center for Nanoscale Control of Geologic CO2, an Energy Frontier Research Center established at Berkeley Lab by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The research may also reconcile some confounding experimental observations. For more than a century, scientists believed that crystals nucleate from solution by overcoming an energy barrier. But recent studies of calcium carbonate revealed the presence of nanoscopic clusters which, under certain conditions, appear to circumvent the barrier by following an alternative aggregation-based crystallization pathway.

“Because nucleation is ubiquitous in both natural and synthetic systems, those findings have forced diverse scientific communities to reevaluate their longstanding view of this process,” says the study’s co-corresponding author Jim De Yoreo, formerly of Berkeley Lab and now a scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

The Berkeley Lab-led team used molecular dynamics simulations to study the onset of calcium carbonate formation. The simulations predict that in sufficiently supersaturated calcium carbonate solutions, nanoscale dense liquid droplets can spontaneously form. These droplets then coalesce to form an amorphous solid prior to crystallization.

The findings support the aggregation-based mechanism of calcium carbonate formation. They also indicate that the presence of the nanoscale phase is consistent with a process called liquid-liquid separation, which is well known in alloys and polymers, but unexpected for salt solutions.

“Our simulations suggest the existence of a dense liquid form of calcium carbonate,” says co-corresponding author Adam Wallace. He conducted the research while a post-doctoral researcher in Berkeley Lab’s Earth Sciences Division, and is now an assistant professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Delaware.

“This is important because it is an as-yet unappreciated component of the carbon cycle,” adds Wallace. “It also provides a means of explaining the unusual presence of nanoscale clusters in solution within the context of established physical mechanisms.”

This research was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science through the Energy Frontier Research Center program established in 2009. The work was conducted at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry, a Department of Energy national user facility. The research also used resources of the Department of Energy’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, which is located at Berkeley Lab.

Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,600+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More than 3,800+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Cellular Contamination Pathway for Heavy Elements Identified
Berkeley Lab scientists find that an iron-binding protein can transport actinides into cells.
Tuesday, September 01, 2015
New Mathematics Advances the Frontier of Macromolecular Imaging
Berkeley Lab’s M-TIP solves the reconstruction problem for fluctuation X-ray scattering.
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Bringing Out the Best in X-ray Crystallography Data
“Function follows form” might have been written to describe proteins.
Wednesday, November 06, 2013
Berkeley Lab Gets $13 Million in Grants
Two grants to researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) are aimed at further automating the crystallographic process.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Berkeley Lab Names New Director for Advanced Light Source
Roger Falcone has been named the new director of the Advanced Light Source at Berkeley Lab.
Friday, August 18, 2006
Scientific News
Escape Prevention
Studying flu virus structure brings us a step closer to a permanent vaccine.
Scientists Decode Structure at Root of Muscular Disease
Researchers at Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine have unlocked the structural details of a protein seen as key to treating a neuromuscular disease.
A Natural Light Switch
MIT scientists identify and map the protein behind a light-sensing mechanism.
First Complete Structural Study Of A Pegylated Protein
Significant data obtained at NUI Galway reports first crystal structure of a protein modified with a single PEG chain.
Cellular Contamination Pathway for Heavy Elements Identified
Berkeley Lab scientists find that an iron-binding protein can transport actinides into cells.
Structural Discoveries Could Aid in Better Drug Design
Scientists have uncovered the structural details of how some proteins interact to turn two different signals into a single integrated output.
New Mathematics Advances the Frontier of Macromolecular Imaging
Berkeley Lab’s M-TIP solves the reconstruction problem for fluctuation X-ray scattering.
Diamond Helps Develop New Way of Studying the Tiniest Microcrystals
Researchers have developed a new type of sample holder for ‘serial protein crystallography’.
Crystal Clear Images Uncover Secrets of Hormone Receptors
NIH researchers gain better understanding of how neuropeptide hormones trigger chemical reactions in cells.
TOPLESS Plants Provide Clues to Human Molecular Interactions
Scientists at Van Andel Research Institute have revealed an important molecular mechanism in plants that has significant similarities to certain signaling mechanisms in humans, which are closely linked to early embryonic development and to diseases such as cancer.
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,600+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
3,800+ scientific videos