Atoms in Motion: Electron beam induced dynamics in experiment and simulation

Daniel Knez, Alexander VOLK, Philipp Thaler, Wolfgang E. Ernst, Ferdinand Hofer

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


With the availability of aberration-correctors, scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) has become one of the most versatile tools for the characterization of nanostructured materials. In combination with electron energy loss spectrometers (EELS) and energy dispersive X-ray (EDX) detectors in principle chemical information can be extracted at atomic resolution. Due to the high current densities occurring in a highly focused electron beam, however, STEM has to be classified as destructive method in many cases.[1] This is especially true for small metallic clusters with a high percentage of low-coordinated atoms, which are interesting in particular for heterogeneous catalysis.In this work electron beam induced dynamics was studied via transient STEM HAADF image sequences for different nanostructured material systems like bimetallic alloys and clusters. All clusters were synthesized by means of the superfluid helium droplet method, which guarantees their high purity.[2] Furthermore, we present a methodology for the simulation of elastic electron damage processes using an algorithm based on molecular dynamics and Monte Carlo techniques.[3] Figure 1a shows simulation results for a bimetallic AuAg-cluster which exhibits selective Ag-sputtering and a rapid change of morphology during electron radiation. In Figure 1b HAADF image time series of an Au-CrOx core-shell nanowire can be seen. Due to electron beam enhanced diffusion of Au atoms in CrOx, significant morphology changes of the Au core can be observed after a few seconds of electron beam exposure, even at 60 keV electron energy.Deeper understanding of electron beam induced dynamics can not only help to develop strategies to prevent sample damage, which is important especially for analytical and quantitative STEM analysis. Electron induced motion of single atoms on the surface or inside crystalline materials may also be useful to estimate surface energies, analyse defect generation and investigate diffusion processes.[4,5] Figure 1c shows the electron beam mediated diffusion of Au atoms on and inside an Al-matrix, for instance.Moreover, electron beam induced chemical reactions can be used to tailor nanostructures with properties not obtainable otherwise. We show how Ni clusters transform into single crystalline, hollow and toroidal NiO clusters, consisting of less than 3000 Ni atoms, during electron exposure (see Figure 1d and e). The transformation is mediated by adsorbed water and driven by a nanoscale Kirkendall effect. We studied the oxidation process via HAADF time-lapse series and EELS analysis.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEuropean Microscopy Congress 2016: Proceedings
ISBN (Print)9783527808465
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Event16th European Microscopy Conference: EMC 2016 - Lyon Convention Center, Lyon, France
Duration: 28 Aug 20162 Sept 2016
Conference number: 16


Conference16th European Microscopy Conference
Abbreviated titleEMC 2016
Internet address


  • metallic clusters, radiation damage, knock-on damage, damage simulation

Fields of Expertise

  • Advanced Materials Science

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