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Artificial intelligence (AI) promises to reshape scientific inquiry and enable breakthrough discoveries in areas such as energy storage, quantum computing, and biomedicine. Scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM), a cornerstone of the study of chemical and materials systems, stands to benefit greatly from AI-driven automation. However, present barriers to low-level instrument control, as well as generalizable and interpretable feature detection, make truly automated microscopy impractical. Here, we discuss the design of a closed-loop instrument control platform guided by emerging sparse data analytics. We hypothesize that a centralized controller, informed by machine learning combining limited a priori knowledge and task-based discrimination, could drive on-the-fly experimental decision-making. This platform may unlock practical, automated analysis of a variety of material features, enabling new high-throughput and statistical studies.
Germanium is a small-gap semiconductor that efficiently absorbs visible light, resulting in photoexcited electrons predicted to be sufficiently energetic to reduce H2O for H2 gas evolution. In order to protect the surface from corrosion and prevent surface charge recombination in contact with aqueous pH 7 electrolyte, we grew epitaxial SrTiO3 layers of different thicknesses on p-Ge (001) surfaces. Four-nanometer SrTiO3 allows photogenerated electrons to reach the surface and evolve H2 gas, while 13 nm SrTiO3 blocks these electrons. Ambient pressure x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy indicates that the surface readily dissociates H2O to form OH species, which may impact surface band bending.
With the development of affordable aberration correctors, analytical scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) studies of complex interfaces can now be conducted at high spatial resolution at laboratories worldwide. Energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS) in particular has grown in popularity, as it enables elemental mapping over a wide range of ionization energies. However, the interpretation of atomically resolved data is greatly complicated by beam–sample interactions that are often overlooked by novice users. Here we describe the practical factors—namely, sample thickness and the choice of ionization edge—that affect the quantification of a model perovskite oxide interface. Our measurements of the same sample, in regions of different thickness, indicate that interface profiles can vary by as much as 2–5 unit cells, depending on the spectral feature. This finding is supported by multislice simulations, which reveal that on-axis maps of even perfectly abrupt interfaces exhibit significant delocalization. Quantification of thicker samples is further complicated by channeling to heavier sites across the interface, as well as an increased signal background. We show that extreme care must be taken to prepare samples to minimize channeling effects and argue that it may not be possible to extract atomically resolved information from many chemical maps.