PerspectiveMaterials Science

Electron diffraction and the hydrogen atom

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Science  13 Jan 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6321, pp. 136
DOI: 10.1126/science.aal4570

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The humble hydrogen atom, with just a single proton and a single electron, is the key to many chemical and biological processes, but precisely because of its low number of electrons, it is difficult to detect even in a single-crystal x-ray diffraction (XRD) experiment. If the material is polycrystalline (crystal volume <100 µm3) and only powder-diffraction techniques can be applied, detection becomes almost hopeless unless sophisticated neutron-diffraction experiments are performed on completely deuterated material. On page 166 of this issue, Palatinus et al. (1) report on a method that locates hydrogen atom positions directly in submicrometer-sized crystals. They used three-dimensional (3D) electron-diffraction (ED) data and a structure-refinement algorithm that takes into account the rather complicated dynamical scattering effects inherent to such data (2).