American Chemical Society
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EELS Studies of Cerium Electrolyte Reveal Substantial Solute Concentration Effects in Graphene Liquid Cells

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posted on 2023-03-29, 07:44 authored by Michelle F. Crook, Ivan A. Moreno-Hernandez, Justin C. Ondry, Jim Ciston, Karen C. Bustillo, Alfred Vargas, A. Paul Alivisatos
Graphene liquid cell transmission electron microscopy is a powerful technique to visualize nanoscale dynamics and transformations at atomic resolution. However, the solution in liquid cells is known to be affected by radiolysis, and the stochastic formation of graphene liquid cells raises questions about the solution chemistry in individual pockets. In this study, electron energy loss spectroscopy (EELS) was used to evaluate a model encapsulated solution, aqueous CeCl3. First, the ratio between the O K-edge and Ce M-edge was used to approximate the concentration of cerium salt in the graphene liquid cell. It was determined that the ratio between oxygen and cerium was orders of magnitude lower than what is expected for a dilute solution, indicating that the encapsulated solution is highly concentrated. To probe how this affects the chemistry within graphene liquid cells, the oxidation of Ce3+ was measured using time-resolved parallel EELS. It was determined that Ce3+ oxidizes faster under high electron fluxes, but reaches the same steady-state Ce4+ concentration regardless of flux. The time-resolved concentration profiles enabled direct comparison to radiolysis models, which indicate rate constants and g-values of certain molecular species are substantially different in the highly concentrated environment. Finally, electron flux-dependent gold nanocrystal etching trajectories showed that gold nanocrystals etch faster at higher electron fluxes, correlating well with the Ce3+ oxidation kinetics. Understanding the effects of the highly concentrated solution in graphene liquid cells will provide new insight on previous studies and may open up opportunities to systematically study systems in highly concentrated solutions at high resolution.