DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Nanoparticles seen as artificial atoms

In the growth of crystals, do nanoparticles act as "artificial atoms" forming molecular-type building blocks that can assemble into complex structures? This is the contention of a major but controversial theory to explain nanocrystal growth. A study by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) may resolve the controversy and point the way to energy devices of the future.

Led by Haimei Zheng, a staff scientist in Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division, the researchers used a combination of transmission electron microscopy and advanced liquid cell handling techniques to carry out real-time observations of the growth of nanorods from nanoparticles of platinum and iron. Their observations support the theory of nanoparticles acting like artificial atoms during crystal growth.

"We observed that as nanoparticles become attached they initially form winding polycrystalline chains," Zheng says. "These chains eventually align and attach end-to-end to form nanowires that straighten and stretch into single crystal nanorods with length-to-thickness ratios up to 40:1. This nanocrystal growth process, whereby nanoparticle chains as well as nanoparticles serve as the fundamental building blocks for nanorods, is both smart and efficient."