Dr. Peter Guttmann and the microscopy group of PD Dr. Gerd Schneider at the Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin (HZB) Institute Soft Matter and Functional Materials have developed a new microscope for high spatial resolution X-ray spectroscopic studies.
While conventional X-ray spectroscopy has so far fallen short of resolving single nanoparticles, the X-ray microscope at HZB's synchrotron source BESSY II succeeds by using high-brilliancy X-rays. The research was published in Nature Photonics (DOI: 0.1038/NPHOTON.20111268).
One of the essential reasons for studying nanoparticles or nanostructures is to determine their individual sizes and electronic properties. To attain the necessary spatial resolution, down to the nanoscale, the structures have to be illuminated with X-rays at high spectral resolution and imaged onto a detector using an X-ray lens.
There is great interest in the electronic properties of nanostructures, which can be functionalized in all kinds of ways, for example as active materials with a large surface area and small volume. Conceivable uses are in lithium-ion batteries, for example, or in photocatalysis to produce hydrogen as an energy carrier, or in solar cells. The HZB microscope is a new and attractive tool for materials sciences and for energy research in particular.
This method can take pictures of nanoparticles inside object fields of up to 20 x 20 µm2 simultaneously with a CCD camera. An object field of this size holds many structures of interest. By recording image data in very small energy steps over a select energy range, the researchers obtain records of high-spatial-resolution images with spectral information. This provides a spectrum of each individual particle or portion of the nanostructure. These NEXAFS spectra, as they are called, reveal information about the electronic structure and ultimately the arrangement of the individual atoms within the nanoparticle.
Unlike scanning X-ray microscopy, which measures sequentially the spectra of single nanoparticles with each picture, an image stack from the new method already contains the spectra of a large number of particles, meaning it already has statistical significance.
Statement of Dr. Peter Guttmann
"An important advantage of our microscope is the time gain on top of the improved spectral resolution of 10,000. Unlike the scanning X-ray microscopes used so far for this, our microscope allows spectra to be recorded 100 times faster inside large object fields. We can use the HZB electron beam writer to produce advanced lenses that will improve our method from the current 25 nm to a spatial resolution of 10 nm."