Chemical Gardens

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Chemical Gardens

Sonia Levy

In the early 20th century, Stéphane Leduc (1853-1939), a French biologist invented the term and discipline Synthetic biology.
Experimenting with crystallization in colloidal environments he came across a chemical reaction that would spontaneously, from…


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In the early 20th century, Stéphane Leduc (1853-1939), a French biologist invented the term and discipline Synthetic biology.
Experimenting with crystallization in colloidal environments he came across a chemical reaction that would spontaneously, from inorganic matter, create life-like forms. "Chemical gardens": mineral structures resembling living structures.
Not only the resulting shapes look morphologically very similar to plants or other fungi but the reaction ,osmotic growth, creates a semi-permeable membrane separating an inside from an outside like a "cell" mimicking biogenesis.
By formal analogy, Leduc thought he had found the very way to explain the origin of life. His 1910 treatise, Théorie physico-chimique de la vie et générations spontanées (Physico-Chemical Theory of Life and Spontaneous Generation), translated a year later under the english title The Mechanism Of Life, is an attempt to explain how living matter originates from inert substance and how artificial life can be crafted from inorganic compounds.

Metallic salts are plunged into a solution of sodium silicate to create an osmotic crystallisation that grows into a “chemical garden”. The reaction is caught with the help of macro-time-lapse photography.

Film series (Excerpt), HD, 2007

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