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Real-time observation of dynamic structure of liquid-vapor interface at nanometer resolution in electron irradiated sodium chloride crystals


The dynamics and structure of the liquid and vapor interface has remained elusive for decades due to the lack of an effective tool for directly visualization beyond micrometer resolution. Here, we designed a simple liquid-cell for encapsulating the liquid state of sodium for transmission electron microscopic (TEM) observation. The real-time dynamic structure of the liquid-vapor interface was imaged and videoed by TEM on the sample of electron irradiated sodium chloride (NaCl) crystals, a well-studied sample with low melting temperature and quantum super-shells of clusters. The nanometer resolution images exhibit the fine structures of the capillary waves, composed of first-time observed three zones of structures and features, i.e. flexible nanoscale fibers, nanoparticles/clusters, and a low-pressure area that sucks the nanoparticles from the liquid to the interface. Although the phenomenons were observed based on irradiated NaCl crystals, the similarities of the phenomenons to predictions suggest our real-time ovserved  dynamic structure might be useful in validating long-debated theoretical models of the liquid-vapor interface, and enhancing our knowledge in understanding the non-equilibrium thermodynamics of the liquid-vapor interface to benefit future engineering designs in microfluidics.

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