Influence of Structural Defects on Biomineralized ZnS Nanoparticle Dissolution: An In-situ Electron Microscopy Study

Jeremy R. Eskelsen, Jie Xu, Michelle Y. Chiu, Ji-Won Moon, Branford O. Wilkins, David E. Graham, Boahua Gu and Eric M. Pierce, 2018
micrographs of ZnS dissolution behavior
Image courtesy of Environmental Science & Technology


The dissolution of metal sulfides, such as ZnS, is an important biogeochemical process affecting fate and transport of trace metals in the environment. However, current studies of in situ dissolution of metal sulfides and the effects of structural defects on dissolution are lacking. Here we have examined the dissolution behavior of ZnS nanoparticles synthesized via several abiotic and biological pathways. Specifically, we have examined biogenic ZnS nanoparticles produced by an anaerobic, metal-reducing bacterium Thermoanaerobacter sp. X513 in a Zn-amended, thiosulfate-containing growth medium in the presence or absence of silver (Ag), and abiogenic ZnS nanoparticles were produced by mixing an aqueous Zn solution with either H2S-rich gas or Na2S solution. The size distribution, crystal structure, aggregation behavior, and internal defects of the synthesized ZnS nanoparticles were examined using high-resolution transmission electron microscopy (TEM) coupled with X-ray energy dispersive spectroscopy. The characterization results show that both the biogenic and abiogenic samples were dominantly composed of sphalerite. In the absence of Ag, the biogenic ZnS nanoparticles were significantly larger (i.e., ∼10 nm) than the abiogenic ones (i.e., ∼3–5 nm) and contained structural defects (e.g., twins and stacking faults). The presence of trace Ag showed a restraining effect on the particle size of the biogenic ZnS, resulting in quantum-dot-sized nanoparticles (i.e., ∼3 nm). In situ dissolution experiments for the synthesized ZnS were conducted with a liquid-cell TEM (LCTEM), and the primary factors (i.e., the presence or absence structural defects) were evaluated for their effects on the dissolution behavior using the biogenic and abiogenic ZnS nanoparticle samples with the largest average particle size. Analysis of the dissolution results (i.e., change in particle radius with time) using the Kelvin equation shows that the defect-bearing biogenic ZnS nanoparticles (γ = 0.799 J/m2) have a significantly higher surface energy than the abiogenic ZnS nanoparticles (γ = 0.277 J/m2). Larger defect-bearing biogenic ZnS nanoparticles were thus more reactive than the smaller quantum-dot-sized ZnS nanoparticles. These findings provide new insight into the factors that affect the dissolution of metal sulfide nanoparticles in relevant natural and engineered scenarios, and have important implications for tracking the fate and transport of sulfide nanoparticles and associated metal ions in the environment. Moreover, our study exemplified the use of an in situ method (i.e., LCTEM) to investigate nanoparticle behavior (e.g., dissolution) in aqueous solutions.

Impact Statement

Dissolution of zinc sulfide nanoparticles was studied using LC-TEM. The paper examines how crystal growth mechanisms of biogenic and abiogenically prepared ZnS and the resulting defects of the crystal structure influence the dissolution behavior of the nanoparticles in aqueous solution under beam driven conditions. These results provide insight into mechanisms which influence the release of nanomaterials and metal ions into the environment.