Nature's intricate biominerals inspire fundamental questions on self-organization and guide innovations towards functional materials. While advances in synthetic self-organization have enabled many levels of control, generating complex shapes remains difficult. Specifically, controlling morphologies during formation at the single micro/nanostructure level is the key challenge. Here, we steer the self-organization of barium carbonate nanocrystals and amorphous silica into complex nanocomposite morphologies by photogeneration of carbon dioxide (CO2) under ultraviolet (UV) light. Using modulations in the UV light intensity, we select the growth mode of the self-organization process inwards or outwards to form helical and coral-like morphologies respectively. The spatiotemporal control over CO2 photogeneration allows formation of different morphologies on pre-assigned locations, switching between different growth modes—to form for instance a coral on top of a helix or vice versa, and subtle sculpting and patterning of the nanocomposites during formation. These findings advance the understanding of these versatile self-organization processes and offer new prospects for tailored designs of functional materials using photochemically driven self-organization.

Self-Organizing Matter

Bistervels, M., Hoogendoorn, N., Kamp, M., Schoenmaker, H., Brouwer, F., & Noorduin, W. (2024). Light-controlled morphological development of self-organizing bioinspired nanocomposites. Nanoscale, 16, 2310–2317. doi:10.1039/d3nr05828j