In Situ Liquid Cell TEM Reveals Bridge-Induced Contact and Fusion of Au Nanocrystals in Aqueous Solution

During nanoparticle coalescence in aqueous solution, dehydration and initial contact of particles are critically important but poorly understood processes. In this work, we used in situ liquid-cell transmission electron microscopy to directly visualize the coalescence process of Au nanocrystals. It is found that the Au atomic nanobridge forms between adjacent nanocrystals that are separated by a ∼0.5 nm hydration layer. The nanobridge structure first induces initial contact of Au nanocrystals over their hydration layers and then surface diffusion and grain boundary migration to rearrange into a single nanocrystal. Classical density functional theory calculations and ab initio molecular dynamics simulations suggest that the formation of the nanobridge can be attributed to the accumulation of auric ions and a higher local supersaturation in the gap, which can promote dehydration, contact, and fusion of Au nanocrystals. The discovery of this multistep process advances our understanding of the nanoparticle coalescence mechanism in aqueous solutions.