Researchers under Kenneth Sandhage at Georgia Tech have recently patented a novel process for synthesizing nano-scale silica structures that mimics the way sponges produce biosilica. In this process a biologically derived or synthetic 3D template is reacted in such a way that silicon compounds including silicon carbide, silicon nitride, and others mineralize onto the template. Based on the reactants chosen, the scale of the original template can be modified while retaining its same basic gestalt. This roughly mimics the way that sponge cells biomineralize silicic acid into biosilica on their spiculae. In the natural process, the template is the previous layer of mineral rather than a synthetic scaffold.
Conventional silica products are usually quite brittle and must be made at extremely high temperatures. This patented process can produce silica structures with reinforced nano-structure architecture to prevent brittleness. Moreover, it can be performed at room temperature.
Silica is used in dozens of different industries and fills roles ranging from optical (i.e., optical fiber) to structural. Silica with carefully engineered nano-architecture could be cheaper and easier to produce and have superior properties.Edit Summary