gold nanoparticles moving slowly in STEM in situ liquid cell
Image courtesy of Langmuir


Gold nanoparticles were observed to move at a liquid/solid interface 3 orders of magnitude slower than expected for the movement in a bulk liquid by Brownian motion. The nanoscale movement was studied with scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) using a liquid enclosure consisting of microchips with silicon nitride windows. The experiments involved a variation of the electron dose, the coating of the nanoparticles, the surface charge of the enclosing membrane, the viscosity, and the liquid thickness. The observed slow movement was not a result of hydrodynamic hindrance near a wall but instead explained by the presence of a layer of ordered liquid exhibiting a viscosity 5 orders of magnitude larger than a bulk liquid. The increased viscosity presumably led to a dramatic slowdown of the movement. The layer was formed as a result of the surface charge of the silicon nitride windows. The exceptionally slow motion is a crucial aspect of electron microscopy of specimens in liquid, enabling a direct observation of the movement and agglomeration of nanoscale objects in liquid.

Impact Statement

Gold nanoparticles imaged in situ using LC-STEM move at a rate which is three orders of magnitude slower than predicted by brownian motion. This study examines the effect of parameters such as nanoparticle charge, membrane charge, viscosity and ionic strength on the rate of movement of gold nanoparticles in situ.