Observing liquid flow in nanotubes by 4D electron microscopy

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Science  27 Jun 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6191, pp. 1496-1500
DOI: 10.1126/science.1253618

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Watching lead flow at the nanoscale

Microfluidic devices have recently become useful in commercial chemical synthesis. But what about fluid dynamics at the nanometer scale? Lorenz and Zewail used an electron microscope with nanosecond time resolution to capture images of molten lead flowing through a nanotube. They flash-melted the metal with a laser pulse to begin their flow measurements at a precise time point. The experiments offered insights into viscous friction as well as heat-transfer dynamics in a channel one-thousandth as wide as a strand of hair.

Science, this issue p. 1496


Nanofluidics involves the study of fluid transport in nanometer-scale structures. We report the direct observation of fluid dynamics in a single zinc oxide nanotube with the high spatial and temporal resolution of four-dimensional (4D) electron microscopy. The nanotube is filled with metallic lead, which we melt in situ with a temperature jump induced by a heating laser pulse. We then use a short electron pulse to create an image of the ensuing dynamics of the hot liquid. Single-shot images elucidate the mechanism of irreversible processes, whereas stroboscopic diffraction patterns provide the heating and cooling rates of single nanotubes. The temporal changes of the images enable studies of the viscous friction involved in the flow of liquid within the nanotube, as well as studies of mechanical processes such as those that result in the formation of extrusions.

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