Polymer Science Faculty Research

Simulating Succinate-Promoted Dissolution at Calcite Steps

Nita Sahai, The University of Akron


Organic molecules of a wide range of molecular weights from small organic acids, amino-acids, acidic peptides and acidic proteins to humic and fulvic acids play a key role in modulating nucleation, crystal growth and dissolution of calcium carbonate polymorphs. In general, these acidic molecules inhibit calcite growth and, promote dissolution preferentially along specific crystallographic directions, in the process, regulating crystal shape and size, and even whether a metastable polymorph (e.g., vaterite or aragonite) is nucleated first. For example, chiral faces of calcite are selected by chiral amino-acids and the unusual {hk0} faces are expressed in the presence of amino-acids [Orme et al., 2001], and unusual heptagonal dissolution etch-pit are seen in the presence of succinate compared to the normal rhombohedral pits in water alone [Teng et al., 2006]. Thus, the presence of unusual crystal morphologies may indicate organic-mediated growth, thus serving as a biosignature. We have conducted the Molecular Dynamics (MD) simulations using the Consistent Valence Force Field (CVFF) as implemented in the FORCITE© module of the Materials Studio © software package (Accelrys, Inc. TM) to model the adsorption of succinate, a dicarboxylic acid, and charge- balancing Na+ ions on dry and hydrated steps in different directions on the {104} cleavage face of calcite [Mkhonto and Sahai, in prep.]. At the site of succinate adsorption, we find elongation of the interatomic distances (Ca-OCO3,i) between surface Ca2+ cation and the oxygen of the underlying inorganic CO32- anion the first surface layer of calcite, compared to the corresponding distances in the presence of water alone, suggesting greater ease of surface Ca2+ detachment. This result is consistent with the empirically observed increase in overall dissolution rate with succinate [Teng et al., 2006]. Furthermore, succinate adsorption lowers the step energies, which explains the appearance of steps in the unsusual [42-1] and [010] directions in the presence of succinate as observed by Atomic Force Microscopy [Teng et al., 2006]. Finally, the calculated succinate adsorption energies at hydrated steps decreases in the sequence [-441] > [42-1] > [010], which also corresponds to the sequence of steps opening at dissolution etch-pits in the presence of succinate [Teng et al., 2006]. Our study provides a strong example of the utility of MD simulations in exploring organic-mediated mineral crystal dissolution (and growth) mechanisms, resulting in unusual morphologies, that may serve as biosignatures on Earth, and potentially on Mars and other worlds.