A lot is unknown about naturally occurring nanoparticles. Thought to be a laboratory curiosity at one time, these tiny particles are now being discovered everywhere. It is now known that, metal colloids, minerals, and clay fragments with feature sizes of less than 50 nm make up the majority of the total number of airborne particles.
What is not known is the effect of these nanoparticles on biology, the environment, and human health. This is because the reactivity of nanoparticle solutions depends heavily on how the nanoparticles agglomerate and stick together, which is still relatively unknown. Researchers at the Beijing Institute of Nanoenergy and Nanosystems could have the solution with in situ liquid TEM.
Hematite Nanoparticles ~10 nm in Diameter Move Quickly Under the Electron Beam (Top), but Become More Stable When They Clustered Together in ~50 nm Agglomerates (Bottom)
Using In Situ Microscopy for Nanoparticle Research
The researchers found that the problem with current studies was to do with the experimental techniques themselves, this was discussed in a recent publication in Environmental Science and Technology.
Usually, experiments are carried out to study either the thermodynamics (how they grow) or the nanoparticle kinetics (how they move). Both of these variables are renowned for affecting the properties of the nanoparticle solution. For this reason, the researchers decided to use Poseidon Select to directly observe both the thermodynamics and the kinetics, at the same time.
The researchers discovered that Fe2O3 nanoparticles roughly 10 nm in diameter clustered together in a way that made the resulting agglomerates larger and denser than clusters formed from Fe2O3 nanoparticles approximately 30 nm in diameter. The denser agglomerates should be less reactive and more stable than the others as a result.
This isn’t the first experiment using in situ tools to study nanoparticle agglomeration, but these scientists have exhibited their ability to keep pushing the frontier of in situ research. This is their second publication featuring Poseidon Select, which they started using only two years ago but there is still a lot to learn.
Cutting-edge tools like in situ liquid TEM will increasingly become vital tools for research as our understanding of nanomaterials continues to grow.
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