100th Anniversary of Macromolecular Science Viewpoint: Polymeric Materials by in Situ Liquid-Phase Transmission Electron Microscopy

Lucas R. Parent, Karthikeyan Gnanasekaran, Joanna Korpanty, Nathan C. Gianneschi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


A century ago, Hermann Staudinger proposed the macromolecular theory of polymers, and now, as we enter the second century of polymer science, we face a different set of opportunities and challenges for the development of functional soft matter. Indeed, many fundamental questions remain open, relating to physical structures and mechanisms of phase transformations at the molecular and nanoscale. In this Viewpoint, we describe efforts to develop a dynamic, in situ microscopy tool suited to the study of polymeric materials at the nanoscale that allows for direct observation of discrete structures and processes in solution, as a complement to light, neutron, and X-ray scattering methods. Liquid-phase transmission electron microscopy (LPTEM) is a nascent in situ imaging technique for characterizing and examining solvated nanomaterials in real time. Though still under development, LPTEM has been shown to be capable of several modes of imaging: (1) imaging static solvated materials analogous to cryo-TEM, (2) videography of nanomaterials in motion, (3) observing solutions or nanomaterials undergoing physical and chemical transformations, including synthesis, assembly, and phase transitions, and (4) observing electron beam-induced chemical-materials processes. Herein, we describe opportunities and limitations of LPTEM for polymer science. We review the basic experimental platform of LPTEM and describe the origin of electron beam effects that go hand in hand with the imaging process. These electron beam effects cause perturbation and damage to the sample and solvent that can manifest as artefacts in images and videos. We describe sample-specific experimental guidelines and outline approaches to mitigate, characterize, and quantify beam damaging effects. Altogether, we seek to provide an overview of this nascent field in the context of its potential to contribute to the advancement of polymer science.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14-38
Number of pages25
JournalACS Macro Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 19 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Organic Chemistry
  • Polymers and Plastics
  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Materials Chemistry


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