Tag Archives: gold atoms

A nano big bang event

Here’s what you’re seeing (from the YouTube entry),

Berkeley Lab scientists and collaborators took advantage of one of the best microscopes in the world – the TEAM I electron microscope at the Molecular Foundry – to watch how individual gold atoms organized themselves into crystals on top of graphene. The research team observed as groups of gold atoms formed and broke apart many times, trying out different configurations, before finally stabilizing. The discovery of this fast-changing and reversible process was possible thanks to these high-speed images captured at atomic resolution. Credit: Berkeley Lab

The work was announced in a March 25, 2021 news item on phys.org,

When we grow crystals, atoms first group together into small clusters—a process called nucleation. But understanding exactly how such atomic ordering emerges from the chaos of randomly moving atoms has long eluded scientists.

Classical nucleation theory suggests that crystals form one atom at a time, steadily increasing the level of order. Modern studies have also observed a two-step nucleation process, where a temporary, high-energy structure forms first, which then changes into a stable crystal. But according to an international research team co-led by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), the real story is even more complicated.

Their findings, recently reported in the journal Science, reveal that rather than grouping together one-by-one or making a single irreversible transition, gold atoms will instead self-organize, fall apart, regroup, and then reorganize many times before establishing a stable, ordered crystal. Using an advanced electron microscope, the researchers witnessed this rapid, reversible nucleation process for the first time. Their work provides tangible insights into the early stages of many growth processes such as thin-film deposition and nanoparticle formation.

A March 25, 2021 DOE [US Dept. of Energy]/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory news release (also on EurekAlert) by Clarissa Bhargava, which originated the news item, expands on the topic,

“As scientists seek to control matter at smaller length scales to produce new materials and devices, this study helps us understand exactly how some crystals form,” said Peter Ercius, one of the study’s lead authors and a staff scientist at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry.

In line with scientists’ conventional understanding, once the crystals in the study reached a certain size, they no longer returned to the disordered, unstable state. Won Chul Lee, one of the professors guiding the project, describes it this way: if we imagine each atom as a Lego brick, then instead of building a house one brick at a time, it turns out that the bricks repeatedly fit together and break apart again until they are finally strong enough to stay together. Once the foundation is set, however, more bricks can be added without disrupting the overall structure.

The unstable structures were only visible because of the speed of newly developed detectors on the TEAM I [Transmission Electron Aberration-corrected Microscope], one of the world’s most powerful electron microscopes. A team of in-house experts guided the experiments at the National Center for Electron Microscopy in Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry. Using the TEAM I microscope, researchers captured real-time, atomic-resolution images at speeds up to 625 frames per second, which is exceptionally fast for electron microcopy and about 100 times faster than previous studies. The researchers observed individual gold atoms as they formed into crystals, broke apart into individual atoms, and then reformed again and again into different crystal configurations before finally stabilizing.

“Slower observations would miss this very fast, reversible process and just see a blur instead of the transitions, which explains why this nucleation behavior has never been seen before,” said Ercius.

The reason behind this reversible phenomenon is that crystal formation is an exothermic process – that is, it releases energy. In fact, the very energy released when atoms attach to the tiny nuclei can raise the local “temperature” and melt the crystal. In this way, the initial crystal formation process works against itself, fluctuating between order and disorder many times before building a nucleus that is stable enough to withstand the heat. The research team validated this interpretation of their experimental observations by performing calculations of binding reactions between a hypothetical gold atom and a nanocrystal.

Now, scientists are developing even faster detectors which could be used to image the process at higher speeds. This could help them understand if there are more features of nucleation hidden in the atomic chaos. The team is also hoping to spot similar transitions in different atomic systems to determine whether this discovery reflects a general process of nucleation.

One of the study’s lead authors, Jungwon Park, summarized the work: “From a scientific point of view, we discovered a new principle of crystal nucleation process, and we proved it experimentally.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Reversible disorder-order transitions in atomic crystal nucleation by Sungho Jeon, Taeyeong Heo, Sang-Yeon Hwang, Jim Ciston, Karen C. Bustillo, Bryan W. Reed, Jimin Ham, Sungsu Kang, Sungin Kim, Joowon Lim, Kitaek Lim, Ji Soo Kim, Min-Ho Kang, Ruth S. Bloom, Sukjoon Hong, Kwanpyo Kim, Alex Zettl, Woo Youn Kim, Peter Ercius, Jungwon Park, Won Chul Lee. Science 29 Jan 2021: Vol. 371, Issue 6528, pp. 498-503 DOI: 10.1126/science.aaz7555

This paper is behind a paywall.

Create gold nanoparticles and nanowires with water droplets.

For some reason it took a lot longer than usual to find this research paper despite having the journal (Nature Communications), the title (Spontaneous formation …), and the authors’ names. Thankfully, success was wrested from the jaws of defeat (I don’t care if that is trite; it’s how I felt) and links, etc. follow at the end as usual.

An April 19, 2018 Stanford University news release (also on EurekAlert) spins fascinating tale,

An experiment that, by design, was not supposed to turn up anything of note instead produced a “bewildering” surprise, according to the Stanford scientists who made the discovery: a new way of creating gold nanoparticles and nanowires using water droplets.

The technique, detailed April 19 [2018] in the journal Nature Communications, is the latest discovery in the new field of on-droplet chemistry and could lead to more environmentally friendly ways to produce nanoparticles of gold and other metals, said study leader Richard Zare, a chemist in the School of Humanities and Sciences and a co-founder of Stanford Bio-X.

“Being able to do reactions in water means you don’t have to worry about contamination. It’s green chemistry,” said Zare, who is the Marguerite Blake Wilbur Professor in Natural Science at Stanford.

Noble metal

Gold is known as a noble metal because it is relatively unreactive. Unlike base metals such as nickel and copper, gold is resistant to corrosion and oxidation, which is one reason it is such a popular metal for jewelry.

Around the mid-1980s, however, scientists discovered that gold’s chemical aloofness only manifests at large, or macroscopic, scales. At the nanometer scale, gold particles are very chemically reactive and make excellent catalysts. Today, gold nanostructures have found a role in a wide variety of applications, including bio-imaging, drug delivery, toxic gas detection and biosensors.

Until now, however, the only reliable way to make gold nanoparticles was to combine the gold precursor chloroauric acid with a reducing agent such as sodium borohydride.

The reaction transfers electrons from the reducing agent to the chloroauric acid, liberating gold atoms in the process. Depending on how the gold atoms then clump together, they can form nano-size beads, wires, rods, prisms and more.

A spritz of gold

Recently, Zare and his colleagues wondered whether this gold-producing reaction would proceed any differently with tiny, micron-size droplets of chloroauric acid and sodium borohydide. How large is a microdroplet? “It is like squeezing a perfume bottle and out spritzes a mist of microdroplets,” Zare said.

From previous experiments, the scientists knew that some chemical reactions proceed much faster in microdroplets than in larger solution volumes.

Indeed, the team observed that gold nanoparticle grew over 100,000 times faster in microdroplets. However, the most striking observation came while running a control experiment in which they replaced the reducing agent – which ordinarily releases the gold particles – with microdroplets of water.

“Much to our bewilderment, we found that gold nanostructures could be made without any added reducing agents,” said study first author Jae Kyoo Lee, a research associate.

Viewed under an electron microscope, the gold nanoparticles and nanowires appear fused together like berry clusters on a branch.

The surprise finding means that pure water microdroplets can serve as microreactors for the production of gold nanostructures. “This is yet more evidence that reactions in water droplets can be fundamentally different from those in bulk water,” said study coauthor Devleena Samanta, a former graduate student in Zare’s lab and co-author on the paper.

If the process can be scaled up, it could eliminate the need for potentially toxic reducing agents that have harmful health side effects or that can pollute waterways, Zare said.

It’s still unclear why water microdroplets are able to replace a reducing agent in this reaction. One possibility is that transforming the water into microdroplets greatly increases its surface area, creating the opportunity for a strong electric field to form at the air-water interface, which may promote the formation of gold nanoparticles and nanowires.

“The surface area atop a one-liter beaker of water is less than one square meter. But if you turn the water in that beaker into microdroplets, you will get about 3,000 square meters of surface area – about the size of half a football field,” Zare said.

The team is exploring ways to utilize the nanostructures for various catalytic and biomedical applications and to refine their technique to create gold films.

“We observed a network of nanowires that may allow the formation of a thin layer of nanowires,” Samanta said.

Here’s a link and a citation for the paper,

Spontaneous formation of gold nanostructures in aqueous microdroplets by Jae Kyoo Lee, Devleena Samanta, Hong Gil Nam, & Richard N. Zare. Nature Communicationsvolume 9, Article number: 1562 (2018) doi:10.1038/s41467-018-04023-z Published online: 19 April 2018

Not unsurprisingly given Zare’s history as recounted in the news release, this paper is open access.

Update on the International NanoCar race coming up in Autumn 2016

First off, the race seems to be adjusting its brand (it was billed as the International NanoCar Race in my Dec. 21, 2015 posting), from a May 20, 2016 news item on Nanowerk,

The first-ever international race of molecule-cars (Nanocar Race) will take place at the CEMES laboratory in Toulouse this fall [2016].

A May 9, 2016 notice on France’s Centre national de la recherce scientifique’s (CNRS) news website, which originated the news item, fills in a few more details,

Five teams are fine-tuning their cars—each made up of around a hundred atoms and measuring a few nanometers in length. They will be propelled by an electric current on a gold atom “race track.” We take you behind the scenes to see how these researcher-racers are preparing for the NanoCar Race.

About this video

Original title: The NanoCar Race

Production year: 2016

Length: 6 min 23

Director: Pierre de Parscau

Producer: CNRS Images

Speaker(s) :

Christian Joachim
Centre d’Elaboration des Matériaux et d’Etudes Structurales

Gwénaël Rapenne

Corentin Durand

Pierre Abeilhou

Frank Eisenhut
Technical University of Dresden

You can find the video which is embedded in both the Nanowerk news item and here with the CNRS notice.

International NanoCar race: 1st ever to be held in Autumn 2016

They have a very intriguing set of rules for the 1st ever International NanoCar Race to be held in Toulouse, France in October 2016. From the Centre d’Élaboration de Matériaux et d’Études Structurales (CEMES) Molecule-car Race International page (Note: A link has been removed),

1) General regulations

The molecule-car of a registered team has at its disposal a runway prepared on a small portion of the (111) face of the same crystalline gold surface. The surface is maintained at a very low temperature that is 5 Kelvin = – 268°C (LT) in ultra-high vacuum that is 10-8 Pa or 10-10 mbar 10-10 Torr (UHV) for at least the duration of the competition. The race itself last no more than 2 days and 2 nights including the construction time needed to build up atom by atom the same identical runway for each competitor. The construction and the imaging of a given runway are obtained by a low temperature scanning tunneling microscope (LT-UHV-STM) and certified by independent Track Commissioners before the starting of the race itself.

On this gold surface and per competitor, one runway is constructed atom by atom using a few surface gold metal ad-atoms. A molecule-car has to circulate around those ad-atoms, from the starting to the arrival lines, each line being delimited by 2 gold ad-atoms. The spacing between two metal ad-atoms along a runway is less than 4 nm. A minimum of 5 gold ad-atoms line has to be constructed per team and per runway.

The organizers have included an example of a runway,

A preliminary runway constructed by C. Manzano and We Hyo Soe (A*Star, IMRE) in Singapore, with the 2 starting gold ad-atoms, the 5 gold ad-atoms for the track and the 2 gold ad-atoms had been already constructed atom by atom.

A preliminary runway constructed by C. Manzano and We Hyo Soe (A*Star, IMRE) in Singapore, with the 2 starting gold ad-atoms, the 5 gold ad-atoms for the track and the 2 gold ad-atoms had been already constructed atom by atom.

A November 25, 2015 [France] Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) press release notes that five teams presented prototypes at the Futurapolis 2015 event preparatory to the upcoming Autumn 2016 race,

The French southwestern town of Toulouse is preparing for the first-ever international race of molecule-cars: five teams will present their car prototype during the Futurapolis event on November 27, 2015. These cars, which only measure a few nanometers in length and are propelled by an electric current, are scheduled to compete on a gold atom surface next year. Participants will be able to synthesize and test their molecule-car until October 2016 prior to taking part in the NanoCar Race organized at the CNRS Centre d’élaboration des matériaux et d’études structurales (CEMES) by Christian Joachim, senior researcher at the CNRS and Gwénaël Rapenne, professor at Université Toulouse III-Paul Sabatier, with the support of the CNRS.

There is a video describing the upcoming 2016 race (English, spoken and in subtitles),

NanoCar Race, the first-ever race of molecule-cars by CNRS-en

A Dec. 14, 2015 Rice University news release provides more detail about the event and Rice’s participation,

Rice University will send an entry to the first international NanoCar Race, which will be held next October at Pico-Lab CEMES-CNRS in Toulouse, France.

Nobody will see this miniature grand prix, at least not directly. But cars from five teams, including a collaborative effort by the Rice lab of chemist James Tour and scientists at the University of Graz, Austria, will be viewable through sophisticated microscopes developed for the event.

Time trials will determine which nanocar is the fastest, though there may be head-to-head races with up to four cars on the track at once, according to organizers.

A nanocar is a single-molecule vehicle of 100 or so atoms that incorporates a chassis, axles and freely rotating wheels. Each of the entries will be propelled across a custom-built gold surface by an electric current supplied by the tip of a scanning electron microscope. The track will be cold at 5 kelvins (minus 450 degrees Fahrenheit) and in a vacuum.

Rice’s entry will be a new model and the latest in a line that began when Tour and his team built the world’s first nanocar more than 10 years ago.

“It’s challenging because, first of all, we have to design a car that can be manipulated on that specific surface,” Tour said. “Then we have to figure out the driving techniques that are appropriate for that car. But we’ll be ready.”

Victor Garcia, a graduate student at Rice, is building what Tour called his group’s Model 1, which will be driven by members of Professor Leonhard Grill’s group at Graz. The labs are collaborating to optimize the design.

The races are being organized by the Center for Materials Elaboration and Structural Studies (CEMES) of the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS).

The race was first proposed in a 2013 ACS Nano paper by Christian Joachim, a senior researcher at CNRS, and Gwénaël Rapenne, a professor at Paul Sabatier University.

Joining Rice are teams from Ohio University; Dresden University of Technology; the National Institute for Materials Science, Tsukuba, Japan; and Paul Sabatier [Université Toulouse III-Paul Sabatier].

I believe there’s still time to register an entry (from the Molecule-car Race International page; Note: Links have been removed),

To register for the first edition of the molecule-car Grand Prix in Toulouse, a team has to deliver to the organizers well before March 2016:

  • The detail of its institution (Academic, public, private)
  • The design of its molecule-vehicle including the delivery of the xyz file coordinates of the atomic structure of its molecule-car
  • The propulsion mode, preferably by tunneling inelastic effects
  • The evaporation conditions of the molecule-vehicles
  • If possible a first UHV-STM image of the molecule-vehicle
  • The name and nationality of the LT-UHV-STM driver

Those information are used by the organizers for selecting the teams and for organizing training sessions for the accepted teams in a way to optimize their molecule-car design and to learn the driving conditions on the LT-Nanoprobe instrument in Toulouse. Then, the organizers will deliver an official invitation letter for a given team to have the right to experiment on the Toulouse LT-Nanoprobe instrument with their own drivers. A detail training calendar will be determined starting September 2015.

The NanoCar Race website’s homepage notes that it will be possible to view the race in some fashion,

The NanoCar Race is a race where molecular machines compete on a nano-sized track. A NanoCar is a single molecule-car that has wheels and a chassis… and is propelled by a small electric shock.

The race will be invisible to the naked eye: a unique microscope based in Toulouse, France, will make it possible to watch the competition.

The NanoCar race is mostly a fantastic human and scientific adventure that will be broadcast worldwide. [emphasis mine]

Good luck to all the competitors.

Visualizing 20 atoms of gold

For an outsider it seems like an odd thing to do, theorize about how atoms of gold and other elements might be arranged. I assume this is why there are people who like to write and people (physicists and others) who like to theorize about atoms. The July 26, 2012 news item on Nanowerk notes that a theory about gold atoms has been successfully visualized at the University of Birmingham , UK (Note: I have removed a link),

Scientists at the University of Birmingham have developed a method to visualise gold on the nanoscale by using a special probe beam to image 20 atoms of gold bound together to make a cluster. The research is published today (26 July 2012) in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s journal Nanoscale (“Direct atomic imaging and dynamical fluctuations of the tetrahedral Au20 cluster”).

This is the part of the story I found rather interesting (from the University of  Birmingham’s July 19, 2012 pre-released news item ,

Physicists have theorised for many years how atoms of gold and other elements would be arranged and ten years ago the structure of a 20-atom tetrahedral pyramid was proposed by scientists in the US. Birmingham physicists can now reveal this atomic arrangement for the first time by imaging the cluster with an electron microscope.

Here’s the image the scientists have produced,

A cluster of twenty atoms of gold is visualised for the first time by Birmingham physicists

The work is not entirely devoted to theory (from the pre-released news item),

Richard Palmer, the University of Birmingham’s Professor of Experimental Physics, Head of the Nanoscale Physics Research Laboratory, and lead investigator, said: ‘We are working to drive up the rate of production of these very precisely defined nano-objects to supply to companies for applications such as catalysis. Selective processes generate less waste and avoid harmful biproducts – this is green chemistry using gold.’

I’m not sure how you go from a 20-gold-atom tetrahedron to driving up the rate of production, so I’m hoping to hear more about this in the future.