Tracking single adatoms in liquid in a transmission electron microscope

Nick Clark, Daniel J. Kelly, Mingwei Zhou, Yi-Chao Zou, Chang Woo Myung, David G. Hopkinson, Christoph Schran, Angelos Michaelides, Roman Gorbachev, Sarah J. Haigh

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Single atoms or ions on surfaces affect processes from nucleation 1 to electrochemical reactions 2 and heterogeneous catalysis 3. Transmission electron microscopy is a leading approach for visualizing single atoms on a variety of substrates 4,5. It conventionally requires high vacuum conditions, but has been developed for in situ imaging in liquid and gaseous environments 6,7 with a combined spatial and temporal resolution that is unmatched by any other method—notwithstanding concerns about electron-beam effects on samples. When imaging in liquid using commercial technologies, electron scattering in the windows enclosing the sample and in the liquid generally limits the achievable resolution to a few nanometres 6,8,9. Graphene liquid cells, on the other hand, have enabled atomic-resolution imaging of metal nanoparticles in liquids 10. Here we show that a double graphene liquid cell, consisting of a central molybdenum disulfide monolayer separated by hexagonal boron nitride spacers from the two enclosing graphene windows, makes it possible to monitor, with atomic resolution, the dynamics of platinum adatoms on the monolayer in an aqueous salt solution. By imaging more than 70,000 single adatom adsorption sites, we compare the site preference and dynamic motion of the adatoms in both a fully hydrated and a vacuum state. We find a modified adsorption site distribution and higher diffusivities for the adatoms in the liquid phase compared with those in vacuum. This approach paves the way for in situ liquid-phase imaging of chemical processes with single-atom precision.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)942-947
Number of pages6
Issue number7929
Early online date27 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - 29 Sept 2022


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