Modifying the thickness, pore size, and composition of diatom frustule in Pinnularia sp. with Al3+ ions

Mohammad Soleimani, Luco Rutten, Sai Prakash Maddala, Hanglong Wu, E. Deniz Eren, Brahim Mezari, Ingeborg Schreur-Piet, Heiner Friedrich (Corresponding author), Rolf A.T.M. van Benthem (Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Diatoms are unicellular photosynthetic algae that produce a silica exoskeleton (frustule) which exposes a highly ordered nano to micro scale morphology. In recent years there has been a growing interest in modifying diatom frustules for technological applications. This is achieved by adding non-essential metals to the growth medium of diatoms which in turn modifies morphology, composition, and resulting properties of the frustule. Here, we investigate the frustule formation in diatom Pinnularia sp., including changes to overall morphology, silica thickness, and composition, in the presence of Al3+ ions at different concentrations. Our results show that in the presence of Al3+ the total silica uptake from the growth medium increases, although a decrease in the growth rate is observed. This leads to a higher inorganic content per diatom resulting in a decreased pore diameter and a thicker frustule as evidenced by electron microscopy. Furthermore, 27Al solid-state NMR, FIB-SEM, and EDS results confirm that Al3+ becomes incorporated into the frustule during the silicification process, thus, improving hydrolysis resistance. This approach may be extended to a broad range of elements and diatom species towards the scalable production of silica materials with tunable hierarchical morphology and chemical composition.

Original languageEnglish
Article number19498
Number of pages12
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 11 Nov 2020


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