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The desire to image specimens in liquids has led to the development of open-cell and closed-cell techniques in transmission electron microscopy (TEM). The closed-cell approach is currently more common in TEM and has yielded new insights into a number of biological and materials processes in liquid environments. The open-cell approach, which requires an environmental TEM (ETEM), is technically challenging but may be advantageous in certain circumstances due to fewer restrictions on specimen and detector geometry. Here, we demonstrate a novel approach to open-cell liquid TEM, in which we use salt particles to facilitate the in situ formation of droplets of aqueous solution that envelope specimen particles coloaded with the salt. This is achieved by controlling sample temperature between 1 and 10°C and introducing water vapor to the ETEM chamber above the critical pressure for the formation of liquid water on the salt particles. Our use of in situ hydration enables specimens to be loaded into a microscope in a dry state using standard 3 mm TEM grids, allowing specimens to be prepared using trivial sample preparation techniques. Our future aim will be to combine this technique with an in situ light source to study photocorrosion in aqueous environments.
Many nanoparticles in fields such as heterogeneous catalysis undergo surface structural fluctuations during chemical reactions, which may control functionality. These dynamic structural changes may be ideally investigated with time-resolved in situ electron microscopy. We have explored approaches for extracting quantitative information from large time-resolved image data sets with a low signal to noise recorded with a direct electron detector on an aberration-corrected transmission electron microscope. We focus on quantitatively characterizing beam-induced dynamic structural rearrangements taking place on the surface of CeO2 (ceria). A 2D Gaussian fitting procedure is employed to determine the position and occupancy of each atomic column in the nanoparticle with a temporal resolution of 2.5 ms and a spatial precision of 0.25 Å. Local rapid lattice expansions/contractions and atomic migration were revealed to occur on the (100) surface, whereas (111) surfaces were relatively stable throughout the experiment. The application of this methodology to other materials will provide new insights into the behavior of nanoparticle surface reconstructions that were previously inaccessible using other methods, which will have important consequences for the understanding of dynamic structure–property relationships.
Tomography produces complex volumetric datasets containing the entire internal structure and density of an object in three dimensions (3D). Interpreting volumetric data requires 3D visualization but needs specialized software distinguishable from more familiar tools used in animation for 3D surface data. This tutorial reviews 3D visualization techniques for volumetric data using the open-source tomviz software package. A suite of tools including two-dimensional (2D) slices, surface contours, and full volume rendering provide quantitative and qualitative analysis of volumetric information. The principles outlined here are applicable to a wide range of 3D tomography techniques and can be applied to volumetric datasets beyond materials characterization.
Lithium sulfur (Li–S) batteries have the potential to provide higher energy storage density at lower cost than conventional lithium ion batteries. A key challenge for Li–S batteries is the loss of sulfur to the electrolyte during cycling. This loss can be mitigated by sequestering the sulfur in nanostructured carbon–sulfur composites. The nanoscale characterization of the sulfur distribution within these complex nanostructured electrodes is normally performed by electron microscopy, but sulfur sublimates and redistributes in the high-vacuum conditions of conventional electron microscopes. The resulting sublimation artifacts render characterization of sulfur in conventional electron microscopes problematic and unreliable. Here, we demonstrate two techniques, cryogenic transmission electron microscopy (cryo-TEM) and scanning electron microscopy in air (airSEM), that enable the reliable characterization of sulfur across multiple length scales by suppressing sulfur sublimation. We use cryo-TEM and airSEM to examine carbon–sulfur composites synthesized for use as Li–S battery cathodes, noting several cases where the commonly employed sulfur melt infusion method is highly inefficient at infiltrating sulfur into porous carbon hosts.