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Starting Grant 2013 - Sara Bals

Colouring Atoms in 3 Dimensions (COLOURATOM)

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 is therefore to provide a complete 3D characterisation of complex heteronanosystems down to the atomic scale. The combination of advanced aberration corrected electron microscopy and novel 3D reconstruction algorithms is 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. So far, only 3D imaging at the atomic scale was carried out for model-like systems. Measuring the position and the colour of the atoms in a complex nanomaterial can therefore be considered as an extremely challenging goal that will lead to a wealth of new information. Our objectives will enable 3D strain measurements at the atomic scale, localisation of atomic vacancies and interface characterisation in hetero-nanocrystals or hybrid soft-hard matter nanocompounds. Quantification of the oxidation states of surface atoms and of 3D surface relaxation will yield new insights concerning preferential functionalities.

Although these goals already go beyond the state-of-the-art, we plan to break fundamental limits and completely eliminate the need to tilt the sample for electron tomography. Especially for beam sensitive materials, this technique, so-called "multidetector stereoscopy", can be considered as a groundbreaking approach to obtain 3D information at the atomic scale. As an ultimate ambition, we will investigate the dynamic behaviour of ultra-small binary clusters.