Date of Award

Fall 12-21-2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Mechanical Engineering & Applied Mechanics

First Advisor

Haim H. Bau


There are many scientifically interesting and technologically relevant nanoscale phenomena that take place in liquid media. Examples include aggregation and assembly of nanoparticles; colloidal crystal formation; liquid phase growth of structures such as nanowires; electrochemical deposition and etching for fabrication processes and battery applications; interfacial phenomena; boiling and cavitation; and biological interactions. Understanding of these fields would benefit greatly from real-time, in situ transmission electron microscope (TEM) imaging with nanoscale resolution. Most liquids cannot be imaged by traditional TEM due to evaporation in the high vacuum environment and the requirement that samples be very thin. Liquid-cell in situ TEM has emerged as an exciting new experimental technique that hermetically seals a thin slice of liquid between two electron transparent membranes to enable TEM imaging of liquid-based processes. This work presents details of the fabrication of a custom-made liquid-cell in situ TEM device, dubbed the nanoaquarium. The nanoaquarium’s highlights include an exceptionally thin sample cross section (10s to 100s of nm); wafer scale processing that enables high-yield mass production; robust hermetic sealing that provides leak-free operation without use of glue, epoxy, or any polymers; compatibility with lab-on-chip technology; and on-chip integrated electrodes for sensing and actuation. The fabrication process is described, with an emphasis on direct wafer bonding. Experimental results involving direct observation of colloid aggregation using an aqueous solution of gold nanoparticles are presented. Quantitative analysis of the growth process agrees with prior results and theory, indicating that the experimental technique does not radically alter the observed phenomenon. For the first time, in situ observations of nanoparticles at a contact line and in an evaporating thin film of liquid are reported, with applications for techniques such as dip-coating and drop-casting, commonly used for depositing nanoparticles on a surface via convective-capillary assembly. Theoretical analysis suggests that the observed particle motion and aggregation are caused by gradients in surface tension and disjoining pressure in the thin liquid film.

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