The first direct observations of how facets form and develop on platinum nanocubes point the way towards more sophisticated and effective nanocrystal design and reveal that a nearly 150 year-old scientific law describing crystal growth breaks down at the nanoscale.
Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) used highly sophisticated transmission electron microscopes and an advanced high-resolution, fast-detection camera to capture the physical mechanisms that control the evolution of facets flat faces on the surfaces of platinum nanocubes formed in liquids. Understanding how facets develop on a nanocrystal is critical to controlling the crystal's geometric shape, which in turn is critical to controlling the crystal's chemical and electronic properties.
"For years, predictions of the equilibrium shape of a nanocrystal have been based on the surface energy minimization proposal by Josiah Willard Gibbs in the 1870s to describe the equilibrium shape of a water droplet," says Haimei Zheng, a staff scientist in Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division who led this study. "For nanocrystals, the idea is that during crystal growth, high-energy facets will grow at a higher rate than low-energy facets and eventually disappear, resulting in a nanocrystal whose shape is configured to minimize surface energy."
The research of Zheng and her collaborators showed that at the molecular level, the geometric shape of nanocrystals during synthesis in solution is actually driven by differences in the mobility of ligands across the surfaces of different facets.
"By choosing ligands that selectively bind on the facets, we should be able to control the shape of the nanocrystal as it grows," she says. "This would provide a new way to design nanomaterials for advanced applications, including nanostructures for bio-imaging, catalysts for solar conversion, and energy storage."
|Contact: Lynn Yarris|
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory