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Electron Tomography of Plasmonic Au Nanoparticles Dispersed in a TiO2 Dielectric Matrix

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posted on 20.11.2018, 00:00 by Siddardha Koneti, Joel Borges, Lucian Roiban, Marco S. Rodrigues, Nicolas Martin, Thierry Epicier, Filipe Vaz, Philippe Steyer
Plasmonic Au nanoparticles (AuNPs) embedded into a TiO2 dielectric matrix were analyzed by combining two-dimensional and three-dimensional electron microscopy techniques. The preparation method was reactive magnetron sputtering, followed by thermal annealing treatments at 400 and 600 °C. The goal was to assess the nanostructural characteristics and correlate them with the optical properties of the AuNPs, particularly the localized surface plasmon resonance (LSPR) behavior. High-angle annular dark field-scanning transmission electron microscopy results showed the presence of small-sized AuNPs (quantum size regime) in the as-deposited Au–TiO2 film, resulting in a negligible LSPR response. The in-vacuum thermal annealing at 400 °C induced the formation of intermediate-sized nanoparticles (NPs), in the range of 10–40 nm, which led to the appearance of a well-defined LSPR band, positioned at 636 nm. Electron tomography revealed that most of the NPs are small-sized and are embedded into the TiO2 matrix, whereas the larger NPs are located at the surface. Annealing at 600 °C promotes a bimodal size distribution with intermediate-sized NPs embedded in the matrix and big-sized NPs, up to 100 nm, appearing at the surface. The latter are responsible for a broadening and a redshift, to 645 nm, in the LSPR band because of increase of scattering-to-absorption ratio. Beyond differentiating and quantifying the surface and embedded NPs, electron tomography also provided the identification of “hot-spots”. The presence of NPs at the surface, individual or in dimers, permits adsorption sites for LSPR sensing and for surface-enhanced spectroscopies, such as surface-enhanced Raman scattering.