Buckingham Palace, as well as other famous or historic buildings, are made of tiny fossils that date back to the time of dinosaurs.
We haven't had much understanding about the material that built Buckingham Palaceㅡuntil now, that is.
The Queen lives and works at Buckingham Palace when she’s in London, but that isn’t the only thing that makes the palace special.There is, of course, its storied history, too. It was built in 1703 for the Duke of Buckingham before it was acquired by King George III in 1761 as a private residence for his wife, Queen Charlotte. The palace remained largely intact throughout both World Wars, though its chapel was destroyed by a German bomb in WWII.
History aside, however, Buckingham Palace is special for another thing entirely. The palace and other well-known buildings are made of oolitic limestone, a popular building material. There are a lot of theories about how this material formed, but there is a new theory that says that the building blocks of oolitic limestone are made by microbes that date way back to the Jurassic period.
The layers of an actual ooid (left) compared to the researchers' mathematical model [Image by Batchelor et al./Scientific Reports]
Oolitic limestone is made up of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) spheres called ooids that measure about a millimeter across. According to a new study, these ooids are composed of layers concentric spheres made of mineralized microbes. These ooids are distributed evenly throughout the material, making it easier to be cut and thus making it a popular building material.
This explanation is “radically different” from the explanations that have come before. Previous theories have held that the ooids were formed due to the snowball effect, in which ooids form due to grains accumulating layers of sediment. However, the researchersㅡRobert Burne in particularㅡaren’t convinced. After all, as Burne says, there is no such thing as a snowball in nature.
Thus, the researchers turned to math. “Our mathematical model explains the concentric accumulation of layers, and predicts a limiting size of ooids,” said Murray Batchelor, the study’s lead author. “We considered the problem theoretically using an approach inspired by a mathematical model developed in 1972 for the growth of some brain tumours.”
The study demonstrated how several microbe species gathered around a nucleus and absorbed nutrients for sustenance. When the microbes in the inner layers die, it results in mineralization. When the nutrients in their surroundings run out, the ooids stop growing.
A piece of limestone rock [Photo by Lannon Harley/ANU]
"Many oolitic limestones form excellent building stones, because they are strong and lightweight," says Burne. "Jurassic oolite in England has been used to construct much of the City of Bath, the British Museum and St. Paul's Cathedral."
Oolitic limestone can also be found as a building material in the US in buildings like the Pentagon and Empire State Building. Other places like Germany, Australia, China, and the Bahamas all have buildings made of oolitic limestone as well. According to Burne, humans have known about this building material since the ancient times.
Knowing the origin of oolitic limestone, however, won’t really make much of a difference. The researchers don’t expect their findings to change the way we use or see limestone. However, Burne says that their research shows how microbes have such a significant role on the planet.
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