Scientists have developed a technique to capture 3D images of the structures of nanocrystals – tiny particles that could be used to fight cancer, collect renewable energy and mitigate pollution.
Metallic nanoparticles are measured in nanometres (a nanometre is one millionth of a millimetre), so small they can’t be seen, making it difficult to know how they work.
All that changes with the new technique explained in Science by Associate Professor Hans Elmlund from Monash University and his collaborators from Princeton, Boston and Harvard Universities.
The method is called “3D Structure Identification of Nanoparticles by Graphene Liquid Cell EM (SINGLE)” and it exceeds previous techniques by combining three recently developed components.
The first is a graphene liquid cell, a bag one molecule thick that can hold liquid inside it while being exposed to the ultra high vacuum of the electron microscope column. The second is a direct electron detector, which is even more sensitive than traditional camera film and can be used to capture movies of the nanoparticles as they spin around in solution. Finally, a 3D modeling approach known as PRIME allows use of the movies to create three-dimensional computer models of individual nanoparticles.
The video above shows the structure of two platinum nanoparticles, which have never been seen in such detail before.
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.
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