Solving the nanostructure problem: Exemplified on metallic alloy nanoparticles

Valeri Petkov, Binay Prasai, Yang Ren, Shiyao Shan, Jin Luo, Pharrah Joseph, Chuan Jian Zhong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


With current technology moving rapidly toward smaller scales nanometer-size materials, hereafter called nanometer-size particles (NPs), are being produced in increasing numbers and explored for various useful applications ranging from photonics and catalysis to detoxification of wastewater and cancer therapy. Nature also is a prolific producer of useful NPs. Evidence can be found in ores on the ocean floor, minerals and soils on land and in the human body that, when water is excluded, is mostly made of proteins that are 6-10 nm in size and globular in shape. Precise knowledge of the 3D atomic-scale structure, that is how atoms are arranged in space, is a crucial prerequisite for understanding and so gaining more control over the properties of any material, including NPs. In the case of bulk materials such knowledge is fairly easy to obtain by Bragg diffraction experiments. Determining the 3D atomic-scale structure of NPs is, however, still problematic spelling trouble for science and technology at the nanoscale. Here we explore this so-called "nanostructure problem" from a practical point of view arguing that it can be solved when its technical, that is the inapplicability of Bragg diffraction to NPs, and fundamental, that is the incompatibility of traditional crystallography with NPs, aspects are both addressed properly. As evidence we present a successful and broadly applicable, 6-step approach to determining the 3D atomic-scale structure of NPs based on a suitable combination of a few experimental and computational techniques. This approach is exemplified on 5 nm sized PdxNi100-x particles (x = 26, 56 and 88) explored for catalytic applications. Furthermore, we show how once an NP atomic structure is determined precisely, a strategy for improving NP structure-dependent properties of particular interest to science and technology can be designed rationally and not subjectively as frequently done now.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10048-10061
Number of pages14
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 7 2014


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