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This image shows silicon nanowires grown in the microscope. The dark areas are the catalysts — liquid droplets of a gold-silicon compound — that cause the nanowires to grow. Credit: Frances Ross and Reports on Progress in Physics / IOP Publishing.
Professor Frances Ross joined the MIT Department of Materials Science and Engineering this fall after a career of developing techniques that probe materials reactions while they take place. Formerly with the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York, Ross brings to MIT her expertise in applying transmission electron microscopy to understand how nanostructures form in real time and using the data from such movies to develop new structures and growth pathways.
Q - Insights - Structures - Real-time - Observation
Q: What insights do we gain from observing nanoscale crystal structures forming in real-time that were missed when observation was limited to analyzing structures only after their formation?
A: Recording a movie of something growing, rather than images before and after growth, has many exciting advantages. The movie gives us a continuous view of a process, which shows the full evolution. This can include detailed information like the growth rate of an individual nanocrystal. Recording a continuous view makes it easier to catch a rapid nucleation event or a really short-lived intermediate shape, which may often be quite unexpected. The movie also gives us a window into the behavior of materials under real processing conditions, avoiding the changes that usually occur when you stop growth to get ready for post-growth analysis. And finally, it is possible to grow a single object then measure its properties, such as the electrical conductivity of one nanowire or the melting point of a nanocrystal. Of course obtaining such information involves greater experimental complexity, but the results make this extra effort worthwhile, and we really enjoy designing and carrying out these experiments.
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