Considerable research has been directed toward identifying the mechanisms involved in biosilicification to understand and possibly mimic the process for the production of superior silica-based materials while simultaneously minimizing pollution and energy costs. Molecules isolated from diatoms and, most recently sponges, thought to be key to this process contain polyamines with a propylamine backbone and variable levels of methylation. In a chemical approach to understanding the role of amine (especially propylamine) structures in silicification we have explored three key structural features: (i) the degree of polymerization, (ii) the level of amine methylation, and (iii) the size of the amine chain spacers. In this article, we show that there are two factors critical to their function: the ability of the amines to produce microemulsions and the presence of charged and uncharged amine groups within a molecule, with the latter feature helping to catalyze silicic acid condensation by a proton donor/acceptor mechanism. The understanding of amine–silicate interactions obtained from this study has enabled the controlled preparation of hollow and nonporous siliceous materials under mild conditions (circumneutral pH, room temperature, and in all aqueous systems) possibly compatible with the conditions used by biosystems. The “rules” identified from our study were further used predictively to modulate the activity of a given amine. We believe that the outcomes of the present contribution will form the basis for an approach to controlling the growth of inorganic materials by using tailor-made organic molecules
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