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Hybrid nanocapsules for in situ TEM imaging of gas evolution reactions in confined liquids


Liquid cell transmission electron microscopy (TEM) enables the direct observation of dynamic physical and chemical processes in liquids at the nanoscale. Quantitative investigations into reactions with fast kinetics and/or multiple reagents will benefit from further advances in liquid cell design that facilitate rapid in situ mixing and precise control over reagent volumes and concentrations. This work reports the development of inorganic-organic nanocapsules for high-resolution TEM imaging of nanoscale reactions in liquids with well-defined zeptoliter volumes. These hybrid nanocapsules, with 48 nm average diameter, consist of a thin layer of gold coating a lipid vesicle. As a model reaction, the nucleation, growth, and diffusion of nanobubbles generated by the radiolysis of water is investigated inside the nanocapsules. When the nanobubbles are sufficiently small (10-25 nm diameter), they are mobile in the nanocapsules, but their movement deviates from Brownian motion, which may result from geometric confinement by the nanocapsules. Gases and fluids can be transported between two nanocapsules when they fuse, demonstrating in situ mixing without using complex microfluidic schemes. The ability to synthesize nanocapsules with controlled sizes and to monitor dynamics simultaneously inside multiple nanocapsules provides opportunities to investigate nanoscale processes such as single nanoparticle synthesis in confined volumes and biological processes such as biomineralization and membrane dynamics.

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