The Origins of the Reaction Zone in Microtornado Experiments

In experimental systems involving diffusing and convecting vapors that react to form solid particulates, a complex sequence of nucleation and growth reactions produces pulsing charged crystals, oscillating fronts, and patterns such as beautiful 3-dimensional structures that we call "microtornadoes", "microstalagtites", and"“microhurricanes". We will review the rich history of these experiments, starting with a counterdiffusional experiment that figures in the pioneering work on diffusion of Dalton, Graham, Fick, and Stefan. Mathematical analysis will progress from a reaction-diffusion model for the origins of the initial reaction zone, to an analysis of oscillations and particle size distributions, to a fluid dynamical model. The insights carry over to similar structures in protein crystallization experiments and the formation of periodic structures in plants.