Nanoparticles have been central to many recent developments, including computing, communications, energy, and biology. However, because nanoparticles are hard to observe, it’s often difficult to pick the best shapes and sizes to perform specific tasks at optimal capacity.
That may be a problem no longer thanks to research out of Stanford University, where researchers gazed inside phase-changing nanoparticles for the first time – allowing them to understand how shape and crystallinity can have dramatic effects on performance.
Practically, this means that the design of energy storage materials could begin to change.
Take the lithium-ion battery, which stores and releases energy due to the electrode’s ability to sustain large deformations over several charge and discharge cycles without degrading. By nanosizing the electrode, researchers recently improved upon the efficiency process.
The nanoparticle increased charge times, storage, and the batter’s life expectancy, but without the ability to really see the nanoparticles at work, it was unknown which sizes and shapes were performing the best.
“We could not have envisaged making in situ observations like this at the atomic level even a few years ago,” says Robert Sinclair, co-author of the study.
The researchers were able to develop hi-res nanoparticle maps – examining the difference between cubic, pyramidal, and icosahedral nanoparticles at work in a lithium-ion battery.
“With this ability to peer inside nanoparticles during their operation, we can help design champion materials for next-generation energy storage devices,” says Jennifer Dionne, co-author of the study.