Crystalline Critters

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In 5th grade, I grew crystals by evaporating solutions of salt water from miniature pie tins. The results were white, boxy crystals whose size depended on how much salt I’d managed to dissolve into the water. But it turns out I could have gotten much cooler results if I’d evaporated my salt water a drop at a time on a hot superhydrophobic surface. That’s how these researchers formed the “crystal critters” shown in the video above.

Initially, the evaporating salt water drop is what we would expect, but once enough water is gone to leave a shell of salt, the drop grows legs and lifts off the surface. From that point, all growth occurs from the surface up. Because the surface is heated, evaporation happens quickest at that point of contact, and the water that remains is drawn down the legs, providing more fluid for evaporation as well as additional salt to grow the crystal. (Video, image, and research credit: S. McBride et al.)

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