Chimneys are inorganic, self-organizing precipitates that form when metal salt solutions are injected into a solution of another precipitating ion, e.g. adding a solution of NaOH to an aqueous iron (II) chloride solution. The self-assembly of these inorganic membranes, the maintenance of gradients across them, and the effects of organic compounds on their mineralogy / morphology are of particular interest in understanding similar geological structures at hydrothermal systems in Earth’s early oceans, as well as in putative hydrothermal vents elsewhere in our solar system (such as on Saturn’s moon, Enceladus). In lab, synthesized versions of chimneys provide a method of recreating these geological “hydrothermal chimneys” which are mineral rich, energetic environments. Previous research (Barge & White, 2017) has explored various lab strategies to simulate hydrothermal vents. The current project seeks to build upon previous work by introducing organics to inorganic chimney precipitate systems, to determine if / how the organics can affect the mineralogy and chimney growth in early Earth conditions. Thus far we have observed that sample preparation is crucial to obtaining Raman spectra of chimneys. In addition, preliminary observations indicate the Raman spectra of chimneys with glycine differ from the spectra of those without organics. These results show that inorganic precipitation systems analogous to geological environments can produce self-assembling membranes that might have relevance to prebiotic processes at hydrothermal vents on early Earth and other worlds.


Laura Barge

Lab site

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)

Funding Acknowledgement

The 2018 STEM Teacher and Researcher Program and this project have been made possible through support from Chevron (www.chevron.com), the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation (www.marinesanctuary.org), the National Science Foundation through the Robert Noyce Program under Grant #1836335 and 1340110, the California State University Office of the Chancellor, and California Polytechnic State University in partnership with NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funders.



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