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Nanoporous, high-purity magnesium nitride (Mg3N2) was synthesized with a liquid ammonia-based process, for potential applications in optoelectronics, gas separation and catalysis, since these applications require high material purity and crystallinity, which has seldom been demonstrated in the past. One way to evaluate the degree of crystalline near-range order and atomic environment is electron energy-loss spectroscopy (EELS) in a transmission electron microscope. However, there are hardly any data on Mg3N2, which makes identification of electron energy-loss near-edge structure (ELNES) features difficult. Therefore, we have studied nanoporous Mg3N2 with EELS in detail in comparison to EELS spectra of bulk Mg3N2, which was analyzed as a reference material. The N-K and Mg-K edges of both materials are similar. Despite having the same crystal structure, however, there are differences in fine-structural features, such as shifts and absences of peaks in the N-K and Mg-K edges of nanoporous Mg3N2. These differences in ELNES are attributed to coordination changes in nanoporous Mg3N2 caused by the significantly smaller crystallite size of 2–6 nm compared to the larger (25–125 nm) crystal size in a bulk material.
Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) with low-energy electrons has been recognized as an important addition to the family of electron microscopies as it may avoid knock-on damage and increase the contrast of weakly scattering objects. Scanning electron microscopes (SEMs) are well suited for low-energy electron microscopy with maximum electron energies of 30 keV, but they are mainly used for topography imaging of bulk samples. Implementation of a scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) detector and a charge-coupled-device camera for the acquisition of on-axis transmission electron diffraction (TED) patterns, in combination with recent resolution improvements, make SEMs highly interesting for structure analysis of some electron-transparent specimens which are traditionally investigated by TEM. A new aspect is correlative SEM, STEM, and TED imaging from the same specimen region in a SEM which leads to a wealth of information. Simultaneous image acquisition gives information on surface topography, inner structure including crystal defects and qualitative material contrast. Lattice-fringe resolution is obtained in bright-field STEM imaging. The benefits of correlative SEM/STEM/TED imaging in a SEM are exemplified by structure analyses from representative sample classes such as nanoparticulates and bulk materials.
Thin-film phase plates (PPs) have become an interesting tool to enhance the contrast of weak-phase objects in transmission electron microscopy (TEM). The thin film usually consists of amorphous carbon, which suffers from quick degeneration under the intense electron-beam illumination. Recent investigations have focused on the search for alternative materials with an improved material stability. This work presents thin-film PPs fabricated from metallic glass alloys, which are characterized by a high electrical conductivity and an amorphous structure. Thin films of the zirconium-based alloy Zr65.0Al7.5Cu27.5 (ZAC) were fabricated and their phase-shifting properties were evaluated. The ZAC film was investigated by different TEM techniques, which reveal beneficial properties compared with amorphous carbon PPs. Particularly favorable is the small probability for inelastic plasmon scattering, which results from the combined effect of a moderate inelastic mean free path and a reduced film thickness due to a high mean inner potential. Small probability plasmon scattering improves contrast transfer at high spatial frequencies, which makes the ZAC alloy a promising material for PP fabrication.