Electron microscopy of nanoparticle superlattice formation at a solid-liquid interface in nonpolar liquids

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Science Advances  13 May 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 20, eaba1404
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba1404

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Nanoparticle superlattice films form at the solid-liquid interface and are important for mesoscale materials, but are notoriously difficult to analyze before they are fully dried. Here, the early stages of nanoparticle assembly were studied at solid-liquid interfaces using liquid-phase electron microscopy. Oleylamine-stabilized gold nanoparticles spontaneously formed thin layers on a silicon nitride (SiN) membrane window of the liquid enclosure. Dense packings of hexagonal symmetry were obtained for the first monolayer independent of the nonpolar solvent type. The second layer, however, exhibited geometries ranging from dense packing in a hexagonal honeycomb structure to quasi-crystalline particle arrangements depending on the dielectric constant of the liquid. The complex structures formed by the weaker interactions in the second particle layer were preserved, while the surface remained immersed in liquid. Fine-tuning the properties of the involved materials can thus be used to control the three-dimensional geometry of a superlattice including quasi-crystals.

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