September 26, 2023
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Unlocking the Secrets of Three-Dimensional Mineral Dendrites: A Glimpse into Geological History

An international research team from the University of Vienna, the Faculty of Physics of the University of Warsaw, and the University of Edinburgh has made a breakthrough in understanding the growth dynamics of three-dimensional manganese dendrites. These intricate mineral formations have puzzled scientists for years, but the team’s study, which involved high-resolution imaging techniques and numerical modeling, has shed light on their formation and the valuable information they encode about geological history.

Mineral dendrites, unlike their symmetrical counterparts, are a result of aqueous growth processes driven by fluid motion and chemical concentration gradients. The researchers focused on manganese dendrites, which typically develop as two-dimensional structures on rock surfaces. However, the growth processes of three-dimensional dendrites have remained a mystery until now.

Through their investigation, the team discovered that dendrites grow through the accretion of manganese oxide nanoparticles. These nanoparticles form when manganese-rich fluids mix with oxygenated pore-water, resulting in the development of complex dendritic structures. The geometry of these dendrites acts as a geological fingerprint, recording the hydro-geochemical history of the rock, including the concentration of ions, volume of infiltrating fluid, and number of fluid pulses.

The study also revealed a non-classical crystallization pathway, challenging traditional views of crystal growth. This pathway involves the formation, diffusion, and attachment of manganese oxide nanoparticles, highlighting the significance of particle attachment processes in nature.

The findings have far-reaching implications for various scientific fields, including physics, geology, and material science. Additionally, the study opens up exciting possibilities for exploring the influence of microorganisms on the growth of manganese oxide dendrites in extraterrestrial environments. By unraveling the complex processes behind the formation of these dendrites, scientists gain valuable insights into the history of rocks and minerals. Furthermore, this research lays the groundwork for further investigations into similar dendritic formations, such as gold and electrum dendrites.

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