Nanoparticle Immobilization for Controllable Experiments in Liquid-Cell Transmission Electron Microscopy

We demonstrate that silanization can control the adhesion of nanostructures to the SiN windows compatible with liquid-cell transmission electron microscopy (LC-TEM). Formation of an (3-aminopropyl)­triethoxysilane (APTES) self-assembled monolayer on a SiN window, producing a surface decorated with amino groups, permits strong adhesion of Au nanoparticles to the window. Many of these nanoparticles remain static, undergoing minimal translation or rotation during LC-TEM up to high electron beam current densities due to the strong interaction between the APTES amino group and Au. We then use this technique to perform a direct comparative LC-TEM study on the behavior of ligand and nonligand-coated Au nanoparticles in a Au growth solution. While the ligand coated nanoparticles remain consistent even under high electron beam current densities, the naked nanoparticles acted as sites for secondary Au nucleation. These nucleated particles decorated the parent nanoparticle surface, forming consecutive monolayer assemblies of ∼2 nm diameter nanoparticles, which sinter into the parent particle when the electron beam was shut off. This method for facile immobilization of nanostructures for LC-TEM study will permit more sophisticated and controlled in situ experiments into the properties of solid–liquid interfaces in the future.