New Microscopy Approach Reveals More Information About Nanocomposites

Nanotech

Researchers at the Ames Laboratory of the US Department of Energy have created a new microscopy technique for imaging gel nanocomposites in their natural state / Photo by: US Department of Energy via Public Domain Files

 

Researchers at the Ames Laboratory of the US Department of Energy have created a new microscopy technique for imaging gel nanocomposites in their natural state, which helps in uncovering more significant details regarding their structure and properties.

Scientists are looking forward to imaging nanoparticles in poloxamers—a group of polymer materials that behaves strangely as they turn to liquid in low temperature but become gel at higher temperatures, a press release states.

The new method, which uses fluid cell scanning/transmission electron microscopy, enabled Tanya Prozorov and her colleagues to employ a molecular printer to inject minuscule volumes (femtoliter, one quadrillionth of a liter) of poloxamer mixed with gold nanoparticles. They observed this mixture under controlled temperature and humidity.

Due to their intriguing phase behavior, these gels demonstrate the promising potential to act as a matric medium for assembly of nanoparticles in these poloxamers to gather materials with interesting optical composition. However, the press release states it is currently difficult to get images of nanoparticles inside a gel environment.

Obtaining a close and accurate peek into how these nanoparticle-and-gel systems assemble themselves has been proven as a struggle for scientists who wish to have a deeper understanding of their properties and ways on how to control them.

“It’s basically a goo. It’s like honey when cold, and at warmer temperatures, it sets into a something like jello,” said Prozorov, a scientist in Ames Laboratory’s Division of Materials Sciences and Engineering, in the press release. "It’s a state of matter that doesn’t lend itself well to the thin samples we use in TEM (transmission electron microscopy)."

Prozorov further said that an attempt to observe freeze-dried, thin layer samples of the gel was not ideal as important details could be lost. Further discussion and other findings of the research are found in the paper “New approach to electron microscopy imaging of gel nanocomposites in situ,” published in the peer-reviewed journal Micron.