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New technique uses electrons to map nanoparticle atomic structures
Date:5/4/2012

y's School of Engineering and Applied Science and a long-term user of the NSLS, who led the research.

"State-of-the-art experiments will still be carried out at x-ray synchrotrons and high-tech neutron-scattering facilities," said Billinge, a professor of Materials Science and Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics at Columbia Engineering. "But this new development removes significant barriers to more widespread use of the method, potentially making PDF part of the standard toolkit in materials synthesis labs. It's rather like moving nanocrystallography from being available only with a prescription to being available over the counter," he said.

In both the synchrotron and TEM-based methods, the essential technique is the same: bombard a sample with a beam x-rays, in the case of a synchrotron, or electrons at a TEM and measure how the rays/particles interact with and bounce off the atoms in the sample. The result is a diffraction pattern that can be translated into measurements of the distribution of distances between pairs of particles within a given volume the atomic pair distribution function (PDF). Scientists then use computational programs to convert the PDFs into 3-D models of atomic structure.

Electron diffraction had been used to study the structure of molecules in the gas phase and amorphous thin films, but initially, scientists didn't think that electrons would be appropriate for obtaining reliable PDFs from critical nanocrystalline materials because, unlike x-ray photons, electrons scatter strongly, distorting the diffraction pattern. This new work demonstrates that, under the right circumstances and with the correct data processing, quantitatively reliable PDFs of small nanoparticles precisely the ones that are difficult to characterize using standard methods can be obtained with the TEM.

Another advantage is that the technique allows analysis of atomic-level structural arrangements using the same tool already use
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Contact: Karen McNulty Walsh
kmcnulty@bnl.gov
631-344-8350
DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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