Organic additives are known to help minerals grow into complex shapes, which are beneficial for achieving various functional (e.g. optical) properties. Calcite-based microlens arrays (MLAs) are good examples of functional materials produced via the self-assembly of amorphous calcium carbonate (ACC) nanoparticles followed by a heat-mediated phase transformation into calcite. The optical transparency of the MLAs is preserved due to the nanocrystalline nature of the calcite formed. In this paper, we investigate the corresponding structural changes by mapping the local lattice parameters and size of calcite crystallites within individual microlenses. We find that the driving force for producing calcite with a crystallite size of 10 nm is the minimization of residual strains and related elastic energy by plastic deformation, which includes grain boundary formation and twinning. Local strains/stresses originate from transformation-associated macroscopic volume changes, which arise because of the differences in specific volume (per CaCO3 molecule) of ACC and calcite, firstly due to water loss and then to short-order atomic rearrangements. MLAs fabricated in this way represent a striking example for a stress-engineered nanocrystalline material produced with almost no energy cost through phase transformation, as compared to grain refinement by mechanical processing.
Schmidt, I., Zolotoyabko, E., Werner, P., Lee, K., Burghammer, M., Fratzl, P., & Wagermaier, W. (2015). Stress-mediated formation of nanocrystalline calcitic microlens arrays. CrystEngComm, 17(47), 9135–9141. https://doi.org/10.1039/c5ce01757b