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Nanomaterials Enabling the Characterization of Nanomaterials

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CNT TEM grids
Process used to create 100 CNT TEM grids simultaneously.

Tsinghua University: Researchers describe a manufacturable process to produce carbon nanotube-containing TEM grids that enable improved microscopic resolution when used to image nanoparticles.

Researchers from Tsinghua University in Beijing have developed a novel nanoenabled device that pushes the limits of scientists’ ability to image nanoparticles, as well as a method to produce these devices on a large scale.  This device, a grid used in transmission electron microscopy, supports nanoparticles during observation, and is itself composed of nanomaterials, specifically a film of aligned carbon nanotubes (CNT).  The CNTs facilitate improved resolution of the nanoparticles during imaging to allow scientists to resolve details of nanoparticles that are not visible with conventional amorphous carbon grids.  Fine structures visible in the image of copper sulfide nanoparticles obtained with the novel grid (left image) are not resolvable in the image obtained with the conventional grid (right).

CNT TEM grids
Novel (left) vs. conventional CNT grids (right).
Furthermore, the authors describe a method to make these novel grids at rates as high as 100 units within a few minutes.  With the claim that this method could be automated, mass production of these nano-enabled grids is possible.  Their research appeared in the July 9, 2008 online ASAP issue of the journal Nano Letters.
This is not the first example in which nanomaterials have enabled the characterization of other nanomaterials and nanostructured features.  CNTs and other high aspect ratio nanomaterials are sold commercially as probes and tips in atomic force microscopy to resolve nanoscale features in the x, y, and z planes.  CNTs are also used as field emitters, and have been investigated for use in electron microscopes in order to improve stability and lower operating voltages. Nanoparticles of various sizes are routinely marketed as calibration standards for microscopy and aerosol science.                                                       

Zhang, L. et al. "Superaligned Carbon Nanotube Grid for High Resolution Transmission Electron Microscopy of Nanomaterials" Nano Letters 8 (2008) 2564-2569.

Supporting information available from ACS Nano Letters.

A review of the article appears in ACS Nanotation.

Images reprinted with permission from Nano Letters 2008, ASAP Article, 10.1021/nl8012727. Copyright 2008 American Chemical Society.