Research Article

Critical differences in 3D atomic structure of individual ligand-protected nanocrystals in solution

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Science  03 Apr 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6486, pp. 60-67
DOI: 10.1126/science.aax3233

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Seeing subtle nanoparticle differences

A challenge in the fabrication of nanoparticles is that even for particles of uniform size, there will still be a distribution in the atomic arrangements and surface capping ligands from one particle to the next. Using liquid-cell transmission electron microscopy, Kim et al. reconstructed the structure of individual nanocrystals synthesized in one batch while they were still in solution. A comparison of multiple particles showed structural heterogeneity and differences between the interior and the outer shell of the individual nanoparticles, as well as nanoparticles containing extended defects and thus differences in internal strain, all of which can affect the physical and chemical properties of each particle.

Science, this issue p. 60


Precise three-dimensional (3D) atomic structure determination of individual nanocrystals is a prerequisite for understanding and predicting their physical properties. Nanocrystals from the same synthesis batch display what are often presumed to be small but possibly important differences in size, lattice distortions, and defects, which can only be understood by structural characterization with high spatial 3D resolution. We solved the structures of individual colloidal platinum nanocrystals by developing atomic-resolution 3D liquid-cell electron microscopy to reveal critical intrinsic heterogeneity of ligand-protected platinum nanocrystals in solution, including structural degeneracies, lattice parameter deviations, internal defects, and strain. These differences in structure lead to substantial contributions to free energies, consequential enough that they must be considered in any discussion of fundamental nanocrystal properties or applications.

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