Lorentz Center - Chemical Gardens from 7 May 2012 through 11 May 2012
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    Chemical Gardens
    from 7 May 2012 through 11 May 2012


Description and Aims


Chemical gardens are a class of seemingly simple inorganic precipitation reactions that create macroscopic tubular structures. They are among the oldest experimental chemical systems but continue to attract the interest of laymen, educators, and scientists alike. Today they are studied as examples of chemical self-organization and materials synthesis far from equilibrium. In addition, they have regained relevance in the context of modern origins-of-life research.

The goal of this workshop was to bring together for the first time a group of scientists and educators from different disciplines that actively investigate or use this fascinating type of chemical pattern formation. Beyond the exchange of scientific knowledge, key goals were to identify major research trends and opportunities, work towards a common scientific language across the different disciplines, and discuss the possibility for future meetings and networks.


Organization and Format


The workshop brought together scientists from eleven different countries. Among the participants were physical and inorganic chemists, experimental and theoretical physicists, geologists, engineers, as well as one historian and one science-museum educator. The program was based on 23 talks which gave the majority of the 33 participants the possibility of an oral presentation. In addition, there were some ten posters. A key goal of the program was to allow for ample discussion time both immediately after the talks and during free time in the afternoon. The workshop concluded with a plenary discussion.




From the response of the participants, we feel strongly that this workshop was a great success. Throughout the entire week it was apparent that this research topic has a lot of potential and that there was a true need for this meeting. The schedule allowed for sufficient discussion time which was actively used by all participants. The discussions were lively and not dominated by a particular group or individual. However, it became also clear that the differences across the disciplines are not only a matter of language but also of scientific approach and style. Some of us also felt that the vastness of phenomena to be explored (a true strength of the field!) hindered systematic and quantitative progress. The idea to identify a small number of model systems for systematic and common analysis by numerous groups was discussed but no conclusion was reached. However, several of the participants agreed to write a comprehensive review of chemical-garden-type processes and work on this paper is underway. Furthermore, there was a wide spread consensus to hold a similar meeting in 2014. There was no clear consensus whether this meeting should target a similar group of scientists or a wider audience. A hotly debated point concerned the name “chemical garden”. Some participants felt that its colloquial character was detrimental to the field while others liked it due to its high recognizability and (seemingly long-standing) history.


Overall this meeting has been a great experience that would have been impossible without the help and financial support of the Lorentz Center and its fantastic staff. Many thanks for allowing us to spend this productive and intellectually stimulating week in Leiden.


Julyan Cartwright (Granada, Spain)  

Michael J. Russell (Pasadena, USA)  

Oliver Steinbock (Tallahassee, USA)