New Nano-Imagining Technique Developed

By Vlad Tverdohleb , Jul 20, 2015 11:46 PM EDT

Nanotechnology is a field that witnessed fast development in the past few years. Recently, a world's first nano-imagining technique was announced by a multi-institutional team of researchers lead by Berkeley Lab from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Nanoparticles can be used as basic block for building the next generation of materials. The team of researchers succeeded to adapt a proved technique for determining 3D structures of individual proteins to determine nanoparticles 3D structures in solution.

The new technique was called "SINGLE". Its abbreviated name stands for 3D Structure Identification of Nanoparticles by Graphene Liquid Cell Electron Microscopy. This imagining technique provides the first images of colloidal nanoparticles at atomic-scale. According to the research team, the microscope has been used to reconstruct separately 3D structures of two individual nanoparticles of platinum in solution.

The lead authority of the research team is Paul Alivisatos, distinguished scientist who directs the Kavli Energy Nanoscience Institute and holds the Samsung Chair in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology at the Berkeley University in California. Alivisatos is also the corresponding author of a research paper reporting the results of the study in the journal Science.

Berkeley Lab Director, Paul Alivisatos, renowned authority in the emerging field of nanoscience, declared that the structural details of colloidal nanoparticles are important for understanding better their synthesis process, physical proprieties, and growth mechanisms. This research is aimed to find new applications in catalysis, renewable energy, and many other domains.

Paul Alivisatos explained that until now, most structural studies of colloidal nanoparticles were performed after crystal growth is complete, while the new SINGLE method allows researchers to study their 3D structure in a solution. This is a significant advancement that can help to improve the design of nanoparticles for energy research and catalysis applications.

Colloidal nanoparticles are composed of clusters of atoms suspended in a solution. Their collective physical and chemical properties are determined by the shape and size of the individual nanoparticles. Because individual particles in a solution are not static, the imaging techniques applied to study 3D structure of individual crystals cannot be used to suspended nanomaterials.

Scientists need to determine the size and shape of proteins in order to understand their functionality. The new technique called "single-particle cryo-electron microscopy," finally comes to solve this challenge.

According to Peter Ercius, a scientist working at the Molecular Foundry's National Center for Electron Microscopy and the co-author of the science paper report, the SINGLE technique will allow scientists to develop a hybrid approach for individual nanoparticle structures 3D reconstruction. 

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