Monitoring chemical reactions in liquid media using electron microscopy


Developments in chemistry, materials science and biology have been fuelled by our search for structure–property relationships in matter at different levels of organization. Transformations in chemical synthesis and living systems predominantly take place in solution, such that many efforts have focused on studying nanoscale systems in the liquid phase. These studies have largely relied on spectroscopic data, the assignment of which can often be ambiguous. By contrast, electron microscopy can be used to directly visualize chemical systems and processes with up to atomic resolution. Electron microscopy is most amenable to studying solid samples and, until recently, to study a liquid phase, one had to remove solvent and lose important structural information. Over the past decade, however, liquid-phase electron microscopy has revolutionized direct mechanistic studies of reactions in liquid media. Scanning electron microscopy and (scanning) transmission electron microscopy of liquid samples have enabled breakthroughs in nanoparticle chemistry, soft-matter science, catalysis, electrochemistry, battery research and biochemistry. In this Review, we discuss the utility of liquid-phase electron microscopy for studying chemical reaction mechanisms in liquid systems.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2: Reactions can be effected using different stimuli and monitored using different electron microscopes and sample holders.
Fig. 3: Electron micrographs help one follow the progress of metal-containing particle synthesis and reactivity in solution.
Fig. 4: Liquid-phase electron microscopy can be used to observe electrochemical processes in systems related to Li-ion batteries.
Fig. 5: Electron micrographs reveal the dynamics in soft-material solutions.

Change history

  • 14 November 2019

    This article has been corrected to change image credits given for Figures 3, 4 and 5. The credit line of Fig. 3 now reads “Part a is adapted with permission from ref.67, AAAS. Part b is adapted with permission from ref.77, ACS. Part c is adapted from ref.102, CC-BY-4.0. Part d is adapted with permission from ref.107, Elsevier. Part e is adapted from ref.111, CC-BY-4.0.” The credit line of Fig. 4 now reads “Part a is adapted with permission from ref.135, ACS. Part b is adapted with permission from ref.137, Elsevier. Part c is adapted with permission from ref.148, AAAS. Part d is adapted with permission from ref.151, OUP.” The credit line of Fig. 5 now reads ”Part a is adapted with permission from ref.153, ACS. Part b is adapted with permission from ref.164, Wiley-VCH. Part c is adapted with permission from ref.165, ACS.


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Correspondence to Valentine P. Ananikov.

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Kashin, A.S., Ananikov, V.P. Monitoring chemical reactions in liquid media using electron microscopy. Nat Rev Chem 3, 624–637 (2019).

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