Multiple Routes to Smart Nanostructured Materials from Diatom Microalgae: A Chemical Perspective

Adv Mater. 2018 May;30(19):e1704289. doi: 10.1002/adma.201704289. Epub 2017 Nov 27.


Diatoms are unicellular photosynthetic microalgae, ubiquitously diffused in both marine and freshwater environments, which exist worldwide with more than 100 000 species, each with different morphologies and dimensions, but typically ranging from 10 to 200 µm. A special feature of diatoms is their production of siliceous micro- to nanoporous cell walls, the frustules, whose hierarchical organization of silica layers produces extraordinarily intricate pore patterns. Due to the high surface area, mechanical resistance, unique optical features, and biocompatibility, a number of applications of diatom frustules have been investigated in photonics, sensing, optoelectronics, biomedicine, and energy conversion and storage. Current progress in diatom-based nanotechnology relies primarily on the availability of various strategies to isolate frustules, retaining their morphological features, and modify their chemical composition for applications that are not restricted to those of the bare biosilica produced by diatoms. Chemical or biological methods that decorate, integrate, convert, or mimic diatoms' biosilica shells while preserving their structural features represent powerful tools in developing scalable, low-cost routes to a wide variety of nanostructured smart materials. Here, the different approaches to chemical modification as the basis for the description of applications relating to the different materials thus obtained are presented.

Keywords: biosilica; diatoms; frustules; microalgae; nanostructures.

Publication types

  • Review