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Tracking the Effects of Ligands on Oxidative Etching of Gold Nanorods in Graphene Liquid Cell Electron Microscopy

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posted on 07.08.2020, 20:45 by Matthew R. Hauwiller, Xingchen Ye, Matthew R. Jones, Cindy M. Chan, Jason J. Calvin, Michelle F. Crook, Haimei Zheng, A. Paul Alivisatos
Surface ligands impact the properties and chemistry of nanocrystals, but observing ligand binding locations and their effect on nanocrystal shape transformations is challenging. Using graphene liquid cell electron microscopy and the controllable, oxidative etching of gold nanocrystals, the effect of different ligands on nanocrystal etching can be tracked with nanometer spatial resolution. The chemical environment of liquids irradiated with high-energy electrons is complex and potentially harsh, yet it is possible to observe clear evidence for differential binding properties of specific ligands to the nanorods’ surface. Exchanging CTAB ligands for PEG-alkanethiol ligands causes the nanorods to etch at a different, constant rate while still maintaining their aspect ratio. Adding cysteine ligands that bind preferentially to nanorod tips induces etching predominantly on the sides of the rods. This etching at the sides leads to Rayleigh instabilities and eventually breaks apart the nanorod into two separate nanoparticles. The shape transformation is controlled by the interplay between atom removal and diffusion of surface atoms and ligands. These in situ observations are confirmed with ex situ colloidal etching reactions of gold nanorods in solution. The ability to monitor the effect of ligands on nanocrystal shape transformations will enable future in situ studies of nanocrystals surfaces and ligand binding positions.