Small wonder – Most flowers start as seeds planted in soil, but Wim Noorduin, currently a post-doc researcher at Harvard, prefers to craft bouquets using Barium carbonate and sodium metasilicate.
Science of beauty – This "flower" is the product of a chemical reaction and is the diameter of a single human hair.
A micro world – Two chemicals are dissolved in a glass beaker filled with water and as carbon dioxide seeps into the vessel it kickstarts a chemical reaction that creates a wonderland of micro-sculptures.
Sculpting through chemistry – Sculpting might be too strong a word, but Noorduin has become increasingly adept at controlling the outcome of his experiments by carefully manipulating variables.
Natural variety – Increasing carbon dioxide levels leads to expansive, leafy crystals.
Bouquet of roses – Changing the PH level of the solution results in rosette structures.
Unexpected result – While Noorduin's flowers are grown in a lab in exacting conditions, he's not above throwing a pinch of salt into the beaker to see what happens.
A nano-garden – Flowers can be grown on a variety of substrates and the texture of the surface impacts the resulting shape of the blooms.
Not just pretty – Beyond being the kind of gift that would set Amy Farrah Fowler's heart afire, Noorduin's nano-sized nosegays have serious applications in materials science research.
Otherworldly realm – "When zooming in using an electron microscope, you see that inside the beaker a vast landscape of complex sculpted microstructures has evolved in which you can get completely lost," says Noordin. "It really feels like you are diving in a sort of alien coral reef."
Enhancing color – The colors are beautiful, but come from Photoshop, not the chemical reaction.
As thin as a hair – Microfabrication techniques that build objects at impossible small scale have seen tremendous gains over the last decade, but researchers are bumping up against limits at molecular and nanoscales.
Advancing reserach – Noorduin ultimately believes this low-tech, biology-based growth approach could ultimately lead to breakthroughs in optical materials and other applications.
Breaking new ground – Learning how to control the chemical reactions and grow crystalline structures could revolutionize sensor and optical materials.
The natural way – While many of his colleagues are focused on making machines that can fabricate ever smaller structures, Noorduin believes the best results will come from following biological principles of growth.
Height of academia – For those interested in the science behind Noordin's boutonnières, his research has been published in prestigious journals.
Ivy League – Noorduin works in the lab of Joanna Aizenberg, the Amy Smith Berylson Professor of Materials Science at Harvard.
Chemical romance – Despite the professional accolades, Noorduin's most important peer-review comes from his lady friend. "Over the years my girlfriend has indeed received many pictures of the flowers," he says. "I took thousands of pictures and would send the best ones to her."