Hydrogen positions in single nanocrystals revealed by electron diffraction

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Science  13 Jan 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6321, pp. 166-169
DOI: 10.1126/science.aak9652

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Pin the tail on the hydrogens

X-ray diffraction has been the method of choice for determining the positions of atoms within a crystal. However, the technique works better for atoms with higher atomic numbers and requires single crystals of a minimum size. Palatinus et al. used electron diffraction, a technique of increasing importance for analyzing very small crystals, to identify the positions of hydrogen atoms in organic and inorganic materials (see the Perspective by McCusker).

Science, this issue p. 166; see also p. 136


The localization of hydrogen atoms is an essential part of crystal structure analysis, but it is difficult because of their small scattering power. We report the direct localization of hydrogen atoms in nanocrystalline materials, achieved using the recently developed approach of dynamical refinement of precession electron diffraction tomography data. We used this method to locate hydrogen atoms in both an organic (paracetamol) and an inorganic (framework cobalt aluminophosphate) material. The results demonstrate that the technique can reliably reveal fine structural details, including the positions of hydrogen atoms in single crystals with micro- to nanosized dimensions.

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