Scientists have created a new way of capturing the 3D structures of nanocrystals, which researchers believe could potentially fight cancer, collect renewable energy, and mitigate pollution.
Metallic nanoparticles are some of the smallest particles. Their dimensions are measured in nanometers—and a nanometer is just one millionth of a millimeter. Until now, it has been difficult to know how they work, because they are so small their structure is impossible to see.
The novel imaging method will allow researchers to investigate the 3D structure of these minuscule particles for the first time.
The research, published in Science, reveals the details of the method and shows how it can be used to characterize the 3D structures of these minuscule particles for the first time.
The method is called “3D Structure Identification of Nanoparticles by Graphene Liquid Cell EM (SINGLE)” and it exceeds previous techniques by combining three recently developed components.
The first is a graphene liquid cell, a bag one molecule thick that can hold liquid inside it while being exposed to the ultra high vacuum of the electron microscope column.
The second is a direct electron detector, which is even more sensitive than traditional camera film and can be used to capture movies of the nanoparticles as they spin around in solution.
Finally, a 3D modeling approach known as PRIME allows use of the movies to create three-dimensional computer models of individual nanoparticles.
How Nanoparticles Grow
Study co-leader Hans Elmlund and his colleagues were able to draw new conclusions about how these highly useful particles grow at the level of individual atoms.
The field had anticipated cubical or at least highly symmetrical platinum nanocrystals. “It was surprising to learn that they form asymmetrical multi-domain structures,” says Elmlund, associate professor at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Advanced Molecular Imaging at Monash University.
The next steps in the project will include investigating the formation and evolution of nanoparticles and characterizing the transitions they go through to reach their final form. “It is important for us to understand this, so that we can design new materials, for example, to build better or more efficient solar cells, or make better and more economical use of fossil fuels,” Elmlund says.
Additional researchers from Princeton, Boston University, and Harvard contributed to the work.