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Colouring Atoms in 3 Dimensions

Final Report Summary - COLOURATOM (Colouring Atoms in 3 Dimensions)

Matter is a three-dimensional (3D) agglomeration of atoms. The properties of materials are determined by the positions of the atoms, their chemical nature and the bonding between them. If we are able to determine these parameters in 3D, we will be able to provide the necessary input for predicting the properties and we can guide the synthesis and development of new nanomaterials.

The aim of this project was therefore to provide a complete 3D characterisation of complex hetero-nanosystems down to the atomic scale. The combination of advanced aberration corrected electron microscopy and novel 3D reconstruction algorithms was envisioned as a groundbreaking new approach to quantify the position AND the colour (chemical nature and bonding) of each individual atom in 3D for any given nanomaterial.

At the beginning of the project, only 3D imaging at the atomic scale was possible for model-like systems. To overcome this limitation, we developed new acquisition, alignment and reconstruction procedures for electron tomography. By measuring the position and the colour of the atoms in complex nanomaterials, a wealth of new information became available. We performed 3D strain measurements at the atomic scale, localised atomic vacancies and characterised the interface in hetero-nanocrystals or hybrid soft-hard matter nanocompounds. Quantification of the oxidation states of surface atoms and of 3D surface relaxation yielded new insights concerning preferential functionalities of catalytic materials.