Scientists have shown the first images of atoms floating in a liquid

The camera has captured the movement of individual atoms through a liquid for the first time using ultra-thin materials that are actually two-dimensional, and the scientists have observed how platinum atoms “float” across the surface under varying pressures.

The data obtained will help to better understand how the presence of a liquid changes the behavior of the solid with which it is in contact, which, in turn, can lead to the development of new materials.

Materials scientist Sara Hay from the University of Manchester in the UK explained: “Given the wide industrial and scientific significance of this behavior, it is truly surprising that we still have to study the basic behavior of atoms on surfaces in contact with one of the reasons for the loss of information is the lack of techniques to obtain experimental data. for solid-liquid interfaces.

When a solid and a liquid come into contact with each other, the behavior of both substances changes where they meet. These interactions are important for understanding a wide range of processes and applications, such as the transport of substances within our body or the movement of ions in batteries.

As the researchers note, it is very difficult to see the world at the atomic level. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM), which uses an electron beam to create an image, is one of the few technologies available.

However, it was difficult to obtain reliable data on the behavior of atoms in this way. Previous work with liquid graphene cells has been promising but has yielded inconsistent results. In addition, a TEM typically requires a high vacuum environment to operate. This is a problem because many materials behave differently under different pressure conditions.

Fortunately, a form of liquid and gaseous TEM was developed, which the team used for their research.

The next step was to create a special set of microscopic “preparations” for containing atoms. Graphene is the ideal material for these experiments because it is two-dimensional, strong, inert, and impenetrable. Building on previous work, the team developed a dual graphene liquid cell capable of working with existing TEM technology.

This cell was filled with a finely tuned salt water solution containing platinum atoms, which the team observed moved across the solid surface of molybdenum disulfide.

The photos showed some great ideas. For example, atoms in a liquid moved faster than outside it, choosing different places to settle on a solid surface.

In addition, the results inside and outside the vacuum chamber were different, suggesting that differences in ambient pressure may influence the behavior of the atoms. Moreover, the results of experiments obtained in vacuum chambers will not necessarily indicate such behavior in the real world.

Materials engineer Nick Clark of the University of Manchester said: “In our work, we show that misinformation is provided if the behavior of atoms is studied in a vacuum rather than using liquid cells. This is a significant achievement and is just the beginning – we are already considering using this technology to support the development of materials for chemical processing, a sustainable development needed to achieve the world’s zero emission ambitions.

The researchers said the materials the team studied are related to the production of green hydrogen, but their methods and results have much broader implications.

The article was published in the journal Nature.

Source: Science Alert.