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Crystals and Life by Gustaf O. Arrhenius

Summary: Crystals and Life
by Gustaf O. Arrhenius
Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0236, USA
(e-mail: arrhenius@ucsd.edu)
Dedicated to Professor Jack D. Dunitz on the occasion of his 80th birthday
The record of life×s emergence on Earth has been thoroughly obliterated by the remelting and turnover of
the crust, soggy and pliable from the water, retained by the planet×s gravitational field. Provided that life existed
on a smaller body such as Mars with an arrested crustal evolution, a protected sedimentary record there may
give clues to the decisive events in the first 500 million years in the history of our solar system. Until such records
become available, we have in our guesswork to rely on laboratory constructions that need to satisfy the demands
both of chemical feasibility and environmental boundary conditions. The combination leaves few survivors
among competing hypotheses.
As life entails a decrease in entropy and creation of order, the origin and propagation of crystalline order has
become a guiding theoretical concept. Recognizing Jack Dunitz×s fundamental contribution to this field of
knowledge, I wish to dedicate my modest discourse to this great scientist upon his scoring of the fourth
significant time mark on the staff of life.
Introduction. ± The life of crystals? Descartes would consider this a contradiction in
his terms, and the definitions are clear ± -lapides sunt; animales sunt et agunt×. But by
defining life in modern, less-philosophical terms, crystals could make the claim ± they
are self-assembling, they reproduce efficiently (Fig. 1), and are capable of evolution by


Source: Arrhenius, Gustaf - Integrative Oceanography Division, Scripps Institution of Oceanography


Collections: Environmental Sciences and Ecology; Geosciences; Biology and Medicine