Downward fingering accompanies upward tube growth in a chemical garden grown in a vertical confined geometry†
Chemical gardens are self-assembled structures of mineral precipitates enabled by semi-permeable membranes. To explore the effects of gravity on the formation of chemical gardens, we have studied chemical gardens grown from cobalt chloride pellets and aqueous sodium silicate solution in a vertical Hele–Shaw cell. Through photography, we have observed and quantitatively analysed upward growing tubes and downward growing fingers. The latter were not seen in previous experimental studies involving similar physicochemical systems in 3-dimensional or horizontal confined geometry. To better understand the results, further studies of flow patterns, buoyancy forces, and growth dynamics under schlieren optics have been carried out, together with characterisation of the precipitates with scanning electron microscopy and X-ray diffractometry. In addition to an ascending flow and the resulting precipitation of tubular filaments, a previously not reported descending flow has been observed which, under some conditions, is accompanied by precipitation of solid fingering structures. We conclude that the physics of both the ascending and descending flows are shaped by buoyancy, together with osmosis and chemical reaction. The existence of the descending flow might highlight a limitation in current experimental methods for growing chemical gardens under gravity, where seeds are typically not suspended in the middle of the solution and are confined by the bottom of the vessel.