The on-chip flow channel of the Stream system allows for full control over pressure, flow rate, liquid thickness and electric potential

Original article by Anne France Beker, Hongyu Sun, Mathilde Lemang, Tijn van Omme, Ronald G. Spruit, Marien Bremmer, Shibabrata Basak and  H. Hugo Pérez Garza

The liquid phase transmission electron microscopy (LPTEM) community faces numerous challenges when performing in situ electrochemical studies inside the TEM. From a lack of control over the flow and liquid thickness, to limited experimental flexibility and reproducibility, these challenges have posed considerable limitations on research. As a result, DENSsolutions has developed an in situ LPTEM solution that addresses each and every one of these challenges – the Stream system. Due to its unique on-chip flow channel design, users can effectively control experimental conditions such as pressure, flow rate, liquid thickness, electrical potential and bubbles. STEM videos are shown below to demonstrate these advantages and visualize the in situ growth of copper with multiple morphologies.

Because you can independently control the pressure at the inlet and outlet of the Stream Nano-Cell, you can control the absolute pressure in the microfluidic channel. This state-of-the-art design consequently gives you full control over the flow and the bulging of the windows, and therefore the liquid thickness. As a result, spatial resolution is improved, enabling meaningful electron diffraction and elemental mapping in liquid. You can accurately define the mass transport and control the electric potential, granting you complete access to the full kinetics of the reaction.

The in situ LPTEM study

In order to exhibit the benefits of the system, copper dendrites were grown and characterized in situ. After the electrodeposition of the copper, EELS and EDS characterization were performed with copper inside the viewing area. Furthermore, high resolution images and diffraction patterns of the grown copper dendrites were recorded using the TEM.

Removal of beam-induced species

A major issue when performing LPTEM experiments with an electrolyte is the undesired influence of the electron beam. In this experiment, the electron beam interacts with the copper electrolyte. However, because you can control the flow of the liquid, you can remove or flush away any unwanted beam-induced species from the region of interest (i.e. window, sample or electrodes). This is displayed in the STEM recording below with the flow moving from right to left.

STEM movie showing debris being flushed

Bubble dissolution

It is important in LPTEM to assure that the cell stays wet. However, when bubbles form, the cell starts to dry out. The Stream system was developed with this in mind, offering a solution to this challenge. Specifically, because you can control the absolute pressure in the microfluidic channel, you can remove unwanted gas bubbles by setting the pressure high. At higher pressures, the size of the bubble decreases until it disappears and vice versa. The dissolution of a bubble that was formed during this copper experiment is shown in the STEM video below.

STEM movie showing bubble dissolution

In situ growth of copper dendrites

The growth and stripping of copper was completed a few times via cyclic voltammetry. The cycles begin with copper reduction, corresponding to the growth of the copper dendrites. Next, oxidation takes place, corresponding to the copper dendrites being stripped. Interestingly, you can see in the STEM video below that after reduction, the dendrites are thicker whereas after oxidation, the dendrites become much thinner.

STEM movie showing 5 cycles of copper growth and etching

Complete flow control

Controlling the flow also has other important advantages that are expanding possibilities in research. Namely, the ability to manipulate the flow rate allows you to control the morphology. You can see in the STEM image below that when flow is applied, the copper grows in a continuous layer with more copper being deposited. On the other hand, without flow, the copper nuclei grow isolated. This is direct proof that the unique flow-control feature of the system allows you to control the kinetics of an electrochemical reaction.

Morphology of copper with and without flow using the Stream system

Conclusively, this research highlights the unique capabilities of the award-winning Stream system, proving its potential to enable and boost research in various application fields, ranging from battery research and fuel-cells to corrosion and electrocatalysis.

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