Advancing Plasmon-Induced Selectivity in Chemical Transformations with Optically Coupled Transmission Electron Microscopy

Dayne F. Swearer*, Briley B. Bourgeois, Daniel K. Angell, Jennifer A. Dionne

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


ConspectusNanoparticle photocatalysts are essential to processes ranging from chemical production and water purification to air filtration and surgical instrument sterilization. Photochemical reactions are generally mediated by the illumination of metallic and/or semiconducting nanomaterials, which provide the necessary optical absorption, electronic band structure, and surface faceting to drive molecular reactions. However, with reaction efficiency and selectivity dictated by atomic and molecular interactions, imaging and controlling photochemistry at the atomic scale are necessary to both understand reaction mechanisms and to improve nanomaterials for next-generation catalysts. Here, we describe how advances in plasmonics, combined with advances in electron microscopy, particularly optically coupled transmission electron microscopy (OTEM), can be used to image and control light-induced chemical transformations at the nanoscale. We focus on our group's research investigating the interaction between hydrogen gas and Pd nanoparticles, which presents an important model system for understanding both hydrogenation catalysis and hydrogen storage. The studies described in this Account primarily rely on an environmental transmission electron microscope, a tool capable of circumventing traditional TEM's high-vacuum requirements, outfitted with optical sources and detectors to couple light into and out of the microscope. First, we describe the H2 loading kinetics of individual Pd nanoparticles. When confined to sizes of less than ∼100 nm, single-crystalline Pd nanoparticles exhibit coherent phase transformations between the hydrogen-poor α-phase and hydrogen-rich β-phase, as revealed through monitoring the bulk plasmon resonance with electron energy loss spectroscopy. Next, we describe how contrast imaging techniques, such as phase contrast STEM and displaced-aperture dark field, can be employed as real-time techniques to image phase transformations with 100 ms temporal resolution. Studies of multiply twinned Pd nanoparticles and high aspect ratio Pd nanorods demonstrate that internal strain and grain boundaries can lead to partial hydrogenation within individual nanoparticles. Finally, we describe how OTEM can be used to locally probe nanoparticle dynamics under optical excitation and in reactive chemical environments. Under illumination, multicomponent plasmonic photocatalysts consisting of a gold nanoparticle "antenna"and a Pd "reactor"show clear α-phase nucleation in regions close to electromagnetic "hot spots"when near plasmonic antennas. Importantly, these hot spots need not correspond to the traditionally active, energetically preferred sites of catalytic nanoparticles. Nonthermal effects imparted by plasmonic nanoparticles, including electromagnetic field enhancement and plasmon-derived hot carriers, are crucial to explaining the site selectivity observed in PdHx phase transformations under illumination. This Account demonstrates how light can contribute to selective chemical phenomena in plasmonic heterostructures, en route to sustainable, solar-driven chemical production.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3632-3642
Number of pages11
JournalAccounts of chemical research
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 5 2021
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)


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