Stable prenucleation mineral clusters are liquid-like ionic polymers
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Calcium carbonate is an abundant substance that can be created in several mineral forms by the reaction of dissolved carbon dioxide in water with calcium ions. Through biomineralisation, organisms can harness and control this process to form various functional materials that can act as anything from shells through to lenses. The early stages of calcium carbonate formation have recently attracted attention since stable pre-nucleation clusters have been observed, contrary to classical models. Using computer simulations, combined with the analysis of experimental data, we show that these first formed mineral clusters are made of an ionic polymer, composed of alternating calcium and carbonate ions, with a dynamic topology consisting of chains, branches and rings. The existence of a disordered, flexible and strongly hydrated precursor provides a basis for explaining the formation of other liquid-like amorphous states of calcium carbonate, in addition to the non-classical behaviour during growth of amorphous calcium carbonate.
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