New insights into the transformation of calcium sulfate hemihydrate to gypsum using time-resolved cryogenic transmission electron microscopy.
ABSTRACT We use time-resolved cryogenic transmission electron microscopy (TR-cryo-TEM) on a supersaturated solution of calcium sulfate hemihydrate to examine the early stages of particle formation during the hydration of the hemihydrate. As hydration proceeds, we observe nanoscale amorphous clusters that evolve to amorphous particles and then reorganize to crystalline gypsum within tens of seconds. Our results indicate that a multistep particle formation model, where an amorphous phase forms first, followed by the transformation into a crystalline product, is applicable even at time scales of the order of tens of seconds for this system. The addition of a small amount of citric acid significantly delays the reorganization to gypsum crystals. We hypothesize that available calcium ions form complexes with the acid by binding to the carboxylic groups. Their incorporation into a growing particle produces disorder and extends the time over which the amorphous phase exists. We see evidence of patches of "trapped" amorphous phase within the growing gypsum crystals at time scales of the order of 24 h. This is confirmed by complementary X-ray diffraction experiments. Direct imaging of nanoscale samples by TR-cryo-TEM is a powerful technique for a fundamental understanding of crystallization and many other evolving systems.