Exceptionally slow movement of gold nanoparticles at a solid/liquid interface investigated by scanning transmission electron microscopy

Gold nanoparticles were observed to move at a liquid/solid interface 3 orders of magnitude slower than expected for the movement in a bulk liquid by Brownian motion. The nanoscale movement was studied with scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) using a liquid enclosure consisting of microchips with silicon nitride windows. The experiments involved a variation of the electron dose, the coating of the nanoparticles, the surface charge of the enclosing membrane, the viscosity, and the liquid thickness. The observed slow movement was not a result of hydrodynamic hindrance near a wall but instead explained by the presence of a layer of ordered liquid exhibiting a viscosity 5 orders of magnitude larger than a bulk liquid. The increased viscosity presumably led to a dramatic slowdown of the movement. The layer was formed as a result of the surface charge of the silicon nitride windows. The exceptionally slow motion is a crucial aspect of electron microscopy of specimens in liquid, enabling a direct observation of the movement and agglomeration of nanoscale objects in liquid.