Microscopic Flowers Made By Harvard Scientists

Scientists at Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have found a way to make a flower garden out of microscopic crystals.

You won't be able to see the flowers with the naked eye, but if you have a microscope, they're a wonder to behold. The scientists were inspired by natural formations like seashells and coral reefs. Postdoctoral fellow Wim L. Noorduin and his colleagues created the flowers by mixing sodium silicate and barium chloride in a water beaker. When that reaction combines with the air's carbon dioxide, crystals made of barium carbonate form in the water.

Noordiun was able to control the size, shape and direction of the crystals by changing the temperature, the acidity of the water and the amount of carbon dioxide. Leafy formations resulted from boosted carbon dioxide levels and the petals' ruffled waves were formed from changed acidity levels.

The team took images of the flowers with a scanning electron microscope and added colors digitally.

"When you look through the electron microscope, it really feels a bit like you're diving in the ocean, seeing huge fields of coral and sponges ... Sometimes I forget to take images because it's so nice to explore," Noorduin said in a Harvard press release.

The implications of the creations go beyond the mere visually appealing. Such a technique can be used in nanotechnology areas like electronics and optics.

"Beautiful (or funny) things such as DNA smiley faces, etc., should therefore not be taken easily as child's play," Hendrik Dietz of the Laboratory for Biomolecular Nanotechnology at Technische Universität München in Germany wrote in an email to the Boston Globe. "There is serious science... that has enabled the authors to pull these things off."

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