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Growth spurts
Date:8/7/2009

The veil is being lifted from the once unseen world of molecular activity. Not so long ago only the final products were visible and scientists were forced to gauge the processes behind those products by ensemble averages of many molecules. The limitations of that approach have become clear with the advent of technologies that allow for the observation and manipulation of single molecules. A prime example is the recent first ever direct observations in real-time of the growth of single nanocrystals in solution, which revealed that much of what we thought we knew is wrong.

Interim Berkeley Lab Director Paul Alivisatos and Ulrich Dahmen, director of Berkeley Lab's National Center for Electron Microscopy (NCEM), led a team of experts in nanocrystal growth and electron microscopy who combined their skills to observe the dynamic growth of colloidal platinum nanocrystals in solution with subnanometer resolution. Their results showed that while some crystals in solution grow steadily in size via classical nucleation and aggregation meaning monomer molecules collide and join together others grow in fits and spurts, driven by "coalescence events," in which small crystals randomly collide and fuse together into larger crystals. Despite their distinctly different growth trajectories, these two processes ultimately yield a nearly monodisperse distribution of nanocrystals, meaning the crystals are all approximately the same size and shape.

"Coalescence events have been previously observed in flask synthesis of colloidal nanocrystals and has been considered detrimental for achieving monodisperse colloidal nanocrystals," says Haimei Zheng, a chemist in Alivisatos' research group, who was the lead author on a paper that reported these results in the journal Science. "In our study, we found that coalescence events are frequently involved in the early stage of nanocrystal growth and yet monodisperse nanocrystals are still formed."

Says Alivisatos, a
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Contact: Lynn Yarris
lcyarris@lbl.gov
510-486-5375
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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