Science

It’s alive! Researchers create synthetic nearly living crystals

crystal

Dear lord, it looks like it’s alive. Scientists have created a crystal in a laboratory that behaves in near life-like ways, according to a story in Wired.

The story says researchers at New York University have created crystals that move, break apart, and form again. They aren’t really alive, but they look like they are.

“There is a blurry frontier between active and alive,” biophysicist Jérémie Palacci of NYU, told Wired. “That is exactly the kind of question that such works raise.”

Palacci and NYU physicist Paul Chaikin described the particles in a Jan. 31 issue of Science. They said the materials form “living crystals” under the right conditions.

As part of their research into self-organizing behavior, the scientists created particles made of cubes of hematite, a compound made of iron and oxygen. It is contained within a sphere-like polymer coating, with one corner left exposed. When hit with blue light, the cubes conduct electricity. When placed in a hydrogen peroxide bath in blue light, the exposed tips set off reactions. Random forces may pull the crystals apart, but they can merge again. The process repeats itself over and over. It stops when you turn off the light switch.

“Here we show that with a simple, synthetic active system, we can reproduce some features of living systems,” Palacci said. “I do not think this makes our systems alive, but it stresses the fact that the limit between the two is somewhat arbitrary.”

These scientists describe it so calmly. But it’s OK to be slightly freaked out at this point.

[Pictured: Amber crystals, by John-Morgan on Flickr Creative Commons]