The surface atomic structure has a remarkable impact on the physical and chemical properties of metal oxides and has been studied extensively by scanning tunneling microscopy. However, acquiring real-time information on the formation and evolution of the surface structure remains a great challenge. Here we use environmental transmission electron microscopy to directly observe the stress-induced reconstruction dynamics on the (001) surface of anatase TiO2. Our in situ results unravel for the first time how the (1 × 4) reconstruction forms and how the metastable (1 × 3) and (1 × 5) patterns transform into the (1 × 4) surface stable structure. With the support of first-principles calculations, we find that the surface evolution is driven by both low coordinated atoms and surface stress. This work provides a complete picture of the structural evolution of TiO2(001) under oxygen atmosphere and paves the way for future studies of the reconstruction dynamics of other solid surfaces.
Using an ETEM, stress-induced reconstruction dynamics of anatase TiO2 was studied under oxygen atmosphere. At 500 C, the surface structure initially formed metastable patterns and then transformed to meta stable patterns. High resolution imaging and simulation studies enabled researchers to better depict the fundamental mechanisms.