Scientists at the Sensitive Instrument Facility of the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory monitored atom rearrangement by using aberration-corrected scanning transmission electron microscopy.
Atom rearrangement was monitored during the synthesis of intermetallic nanoparticles (iNPs). Scientists at Ames Laboratory in collaboration with Wenyu Huang, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at Iowa State University, examined nanoparticles made of a platinum-tin alloy. These intermetallic nanoparticles find applications in energy-efficient fuel conversion and biofuel production.
While the materials were being formed, a lot of information were missing in the middle, which were useful to the scientists for optimal catalytic properties tuning. They tracked the movement of metal atoms of platinum and tin during formation of iNPs using advanced microscopy at high temperature. They found intermediate phases with their own unique set of catalytic properties.
Lin Zhou, a scientist in Ames Laboratory's Division of Materials Sciences and Engineering, said, “Conventional material synthesis focuses on the beginning and the end of a reaction, without much understanding of the pathway. Atomic-level observation of the alloying process led to the discovery of the reaction route.” The research team further said that by knowing intermediate states in between, the reaction could be controlled by them to 'stop' at that point. This will result in a new method to predict and control our discovery of new materials. This research is in detail discussed in the paper, ‘Toward Phase and Catalysis Control: Tracking the Formation of Intermetallic Nanoparticles at Atomic Scale’.
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