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Liquid-phase transmission electron microscopy (TEM) is used for in-situ imaging of nanoscale processes taking place in liquid, such as the evolution of nanoparticles during synthesis or structural changes of nanomaterials in liquid environment. Here, it is shown that the focused electron beam of scanning TEM (STEM) brings about the dissolution of silica nanoparticles in water by a gradual reduction of their sizes, and that silica redeposites at the sides of the nanoparticles in the scanning direction of the electron beam, such that elongated nanoparticles are formed. Nanoparticles with an elongation in a different direction are obtained simply by changing the scan direction. Material is expelled from the center of the nanoparticles at higher electron dose, leading to the formation of doughnut-shaped objects. Nanoparticles assembled in an aggregate gradually fuse, and the electron beam exposed section of the aggregate reduces in size and is elongated. Under TEM conditions with a stationary electron beam, the nanoparticles dissolve but do not elongate. The observed phenomena are important to consider when conducting liquid-phase STEM experiments on silica-based materials and may find future application for controlled anisotropic manipulation of the size and the shape of nanoparticles in liquid.

Impact Statement

Dissolution and anisotropic elongation of silica nanoparticles is observed during in situ liquid phase transmission electron microscopy. This study examines the chemical changes induced by electron beam ionization when imaging silca nanoparticles in liquid.
Keywords: Nanoparticles; Beam Effects; Deposition; Dissolution