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3-D nanoparticle in atomic resolution
Date:2/22/2011

In chemical terms, nanoparticles have different properties from their big brothers and sisters: they have a large surface area in relation to their tiny mass and at the same time a small number of atoms. This can produce quantum effects that lead to altered material properties. Ceramics made of nanomaterials can suddenly become bendy, for instance, or a gold nugget is gold-coloured while a nanosliver of it is reddish.

New method developed

The chemical and physical properties of nanoparticles are determined by their exact three-dimensional morphology, atomic structure and especially their surface composition. In a study initiated by ETH Zurich scientist Marta Rossell and Empa researcher Rolf Erni, the 3D structure of individual nanoparticles has now successfully been determined on the atomic level. The new technique could help improve our understanding of the characteristic of nanoparticles, including their reactivity and toxicity.

Gentle imaging processing

For their electron-microscopic study, which was published recently in the journal Nature, Rossell and Erni prepared silver nanoparticles in an aluminium matrix. The matrix makes it easier to tilt the nanoparticles under the electron beam in different crystallographic orientations whilst protecting the particles from damage by the electron beam. The basic prerequisite for the study was a special electron microscope that reaches a maximum resolution of less than 50 picometres. By way of comparison: the diameter of an atom measures about one ngstrm, i.e. 100 picometres.

To protect the sample further, the electron microscope was set up in such a way as to also yield images at an atomic resolution with a lower accelerating voltage, namely 80 kilovolts. Normally, this kind of microscope of which there are only a few in the world works at 200 300 kilovolts. The two scientists used a microscope at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California for their experime
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Contact: Dr. Rolf Erni
rolf.erni@empa.ch
41-448-234-080
Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA)
Source:Eurekalert

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