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Another Piece of the Puzzle

Nanomanipulator strengthens in-situ battery materials research

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has acquired a new nanomanipulator, which is available to EMSL users who perform experiments using the EMSL microscopy capability. This new tool allows integration of transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and scanning tunneling microscopy (STM). By manipulating a nanoscale object for positioning and applying external stimulus such as current and voltage during atomic-level TEM imaging, this tool has become essential for the success of projects related to chemical imaging, particularly in the area of advanced battery research.

EMSL staff and users, including scientists working on PNNL's Chemical Imaging Initiative, are interested in a new understanding of energy storage-related materials. The performance of a wide range of energy storage devices is determined by the microstructural evolution and structural changes of the materials during operation. However, how the microstructure evolves during normal operating conditions following the initial charging remains elusive in the research community. This is primarily due to battery materials system complexity and the difficulties associated with observing the microstructural evolution of active materials during battery operation. The lack of in-situ structural characterization and their correlation with the electrochemical properties has hindered the development of new materials as well as the understanding of processes that limit the performance or longevity of energy storage and conversion devices.

A major breakthrough [PNNL news release] came late in 2010 with a paper in Science that showed unprecedented images and video of a single-nanowire electrode's structural evolution during charging. One of the authors and EMSL scientist Chongmin Wang developed the concept of creating a working lithium-ion nanobattery designed specifically for in-situ observations inside a high-vacuum TEM. Making this concept a reality included use of a nanomanipulator at the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies at Sandia National Laboratories. The observations resulted in a new nanoscale understanding that offers clues regarding how and why rechargeable lithium-ion batteries wear out over time.

This result shows the power of in-situ TEM, facilitated by the use of a nanomanipulator. PNNL and EMSL scientists are pleased to have added this technology as an in-house capability. Adding to the September 2011 opening of the new EMSL Quiet Wing, this small piece of the puzzle will support unprecedented imaging for a variety of energy-related research projects.

Learn more about EMSL's microscopy capability.

For details on the new nanomanipulator, contact EMSL scientist Chongmin Wang.

Released: July 25, 2011