Research ArticleCHEMICAL PHYSICS

Real-space analysis of diffusion behavior and activation energy of individual monatomic ions in a liquid

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Science Advances  15 Dec 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 12, e1701546
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1701546

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Abstract

Investigation of the local dynamic behavior of atoms and molecules in liquids is crucial for revealing the origin of macroscopic liquid properties. Therefore, direct imaging of single atoms to understand their motions in liquids is desirable. Ionic liquids have been studied for various applications, in which they are used as electrolytes or solvents. However, atomic-scale diffusion and relaxation processes in ionic liquids have never been observed experimentally. We directly observe the motion of individual monatomic ions in an ionic liquid using scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) and reveal that the ions diffuse by a cage-jump mechanism. Moreover, we estimate the diffusion coefficient and activation energy for the diffusive jumps from the STEM images, which connect the atomic-scale dynamics to macroscopic liquid properties. Our method is the only available means to observe the motion, reactions, and energy barriers of atoms/molecules in liquids.

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