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Graphene scientists capture first images of atoms ‘swimming’ in liquid

Graphene scientists capture first images of atoms 'swimming' in liquid

Atoms swim in liquid thanks to graphene. Credit: The University of Manchester

Graphene scientists at the University of Manchester have created a new “nano-Petri dish” using two-dimensional (2D) materials to create a new method for observing how atoms move in liquid.

Publish in the magazine Naturethe team led by researchers at the National Graphene Institute (NGI) used stacks of 2D materials such as graphene to trap liquid to better understand how the presence of liquid changes the behavior of the solid.

The team was able to capture images of individual atoms “swimming” in liquid for the first time. The findings could have a widespread impact on the future development of green technologies such as hydrogen production.

When a solid surface is in contact with a liquid, both substances change their configuration in response to the proximity of the other. Such atomic-scale interactions at solid-liquid interfaces determine the behavior of batteries and fuel cells for clean electricity generation, also determine the efficiency of clean water generation, and support many biological processes.

One of the lead researchers, Professor Sarah Haigh, commented: “Given the widespread industrial and scientific importance of such behaviour, it is really surprising how much we still have to learn about the fundamentals of how atoms behave on surfaces that come into contact with liquids. of the reasons why information is lacking is the absence of techniques that can provide experimental data for solid-liquid interfaces.”

Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) is one of the few techniques that allows individual atoms to be seen and analyzed. However, the TEM instrument requires a high vacuum environment and the structure of materials changes in a vacuum. First author Dr. Nick Clark explained, “In our work, we show that misleading information is provided when studying atomic behavior in vacuum rather than using our liquid cells.”

Professor Roman Gorbachev is a pioneer in stacking 2D materials for electronics, but here his group has used those same techniques to develop a “double graphene liquid cell”. A 2D layer of molybdenum disulfide was completely suspended in liquid and encapsulated by graphene windows. This new design allowed them to deliver precisely controlled layers of liquid, capturing unprecedented videos of the individual atoms “swimming” surrounded by liquid.

By analyzing how the atoms in the videos moved and comparing them with theoretical insights from colleagues at Cambridge University, the researchers were able to understand the effect of the liquid on atomic behavior. The liquid was found to accelerate the movement of the atoms and also change their preferred resting places relative to the underlying solid.

The team studied a material that holds promise for green hydrogen production, but the experimental technology they have developed can be used for many different applications.

dr. Nick Clark said: “This is a milestone and it is only the beginning – we are already looking to use this technique to support the development of sustainable chemical processing materials needed to achieve the world’s net zero achieve ambitions.”

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More information:
Nick Clark et al, Tracking single adatoms in liquid in a transmission electron microscope, Nature (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-05130-0

Provided by the University of Manchester

Quote: Graphene scientists create first images of atoms ‘swimming’ in liquid (2022, July 27) Retrieved July 27, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-07-graphene-scientists-capture-images-atoms.html

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