PerspectiveMaterials Science

Imaging Crystallization

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Science  16 May 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6185, pp. 705-706
DOI: 10.1126/science.1254259

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The invention of the atomic force microscope (AFM) (1) created a revolution in the imaging of crystal growth processes. Surface features can now be visualized and measured in three dimensions so that step heights, terrace widths, and other surface features can be measured with subnanometer-scale resolution. The current generation of commercial AFM instruments is robust and capable of angstrom-scale [and even single atom-scale (2)] resolution. During the 1990s, the AFM flow cell was introduced (3), which allows for real-time imaging as crystals grow, thereby providing insight into the time evolution of surface structure (4). On page 729 of this issue, Lupulescu and Rimer (5) report another exciting development in AFM imaging science—the ability to monitor the crystallization process in real time and under realistic growth conditions.