Unlocking the Mystery of Dolomite: A Breakthrough in Crystal Growth

Researchers from the University of Michigan and Hokkaido University have successfully grown dolomite in a lab, solving a long-standing geology mystery known as the “Dolomite Problem.

For two centuries, scientists have struggled to replicate the formation of dolomite, a common mineral found in various geological formations around the world. However, a team of researchers from the University of Michigan and Hokkaido University in Japan have finally cracked the code, thanks to a new theory developed through atomic simulations. This breakthrough not only solves the enigma surrounding dolomite’s abundance but also holds promise for the production of defect-free semiconductors and other advanced materials.

The Dolomite Problem: Unraveling the Mystery

Dolomite, a key mineral found in famous landmarks such as the Dolomite mountains in Italy, Niagara Falls, the White Cliffs of Dover, and Utah’s Hoodoos, has puzzled scientists for centuries. While it is abundant in rocks older than 100 million years, it is nearly absent in younger formations. This phenomenon, known as the “Dolomite Problem,” has stumped geologists for years.

Defects and Dolomite Growth

The key to growing dolomite in the lab lay in understanding and eliminating defects in the mineral’s crystal structure. In the natural formation of minerals, atoms typically deposit neatly onto the growing crystal surface. However, the growth edge of dolomite consists of alternating rows of calcium and magnesium. During the growth process, calcium and magnesium atoms often attach randomly to the crystal, creating defects that hinder further dolomite layer formation. This disorder slows down dolomite growth significantly.

Dissolving Defects: A Solution Emerges

The research team discovered that these defects are not permanent. As the disordered atoms are less stable than those in the correct position, they are the first to dissolve when the mineral is washed with water. By repeatedly rinsing away these defects through rain or tidal cycles, dolomite layers can form in a matter of years. Over time, this process can lead to the accumulation of mountains of dolomite.

Simulating Dolomite Growth

To accurately simulate dolomite growth, the researchers needed to calculate the strength of atomic interactions on the crystal’s surface. Traditionally, these calculations required extensive computing power. However, software developed at the University of Michigan’s Predictive Structure Materials Science (PRISMS) Center provided a shortcut. By extrapolating energy calculations based on the symmetry of the crystal structure, the team was able to simulate dolomite growth over geologic timescales.

Experimental Validation

To further validate their theory, the researchers collaborated with scientists from Hokkaido University in Japan. Using a transmission electron microscope, they pulsed an electron beam on a tiny dolomite crystal immersed in a solution of calcium and magnesium. The electron beam split the water, causing acid to dissolve the defects on the crystal’s surface. After the pulses, dolomite growth was observed, with approximately 300 layers of dolomite forming, a significant achievement compared to the previous limit of five layers.


The successful growth of dolomite in the laboratory not only solves the long-standing mystery of its abundance but also holds implications for the production of defect-free materials in various industries. By periodically dissolving defects during the growth process, engineers could potentially manufacture higher-quality materials for semiconductors, solar panels, batteries, and other technological advancements. This breakthrough showcases the power of atomic simulations and collaborative research in unraveling complex geological puzzles and advancing materials science.






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