Making the most of your electrons: Challenges and opportunities in characterizing hybrid interfaces with STEM

Stephanie M. Ribet, Akshay A. Murthy, Eric W. Roth, Roberto dos Reis, Vinayak P. Dravid*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Inspired by the unique architectures composed of hard and soft materials in natural and biological systems, synthetic hybrid structures and associated hard-soft interfaces have recently evoked significant interest. Soft matter is typically dominated by structural fluctuations even at room temperature, while hard matter is governed by rigid mechanical behavior. This dichotomy offers considerable opportunities to leverage the disparate properties offered by these components across a wide spectrum spanning from basic science to engineering insights with significant technological overtones. Such hybrid structures, which include polymer nanocomposites, DNA functionalized nanoparticle superlattices, and metal organic frameworks to name a few, have delivered promising insights into the technologically relevant applications such as catalysis, environmental remediation, optoelectronics, and medicine. The interfacial structure between the hard and soft phases demonstrates features across a variety of length scales and often strongly influence the functionality of hybrid systems. While scanning/transmission electron microscopy (S/TEM) has proven to be a valuable tool for acquiring intricate molecular and nanoscale details of these interfaces, the unusual nature of hybrid composites presents a suite of challenges that make assessing or establishing structure–property relationships especially difficult. There are additional considerations at all stages of sample analysis from preparing electron-transparent samples to obtaining sufficient contrast to resolve the interface between dissimilar materials given the dose sensitivity of soft materials. We discuss each of these challenges and supplement a review of recent developments in the field with additional experimental investigations and simulations to present solutions for attaining a nano or molecular-level understanding of these interfaces. These solutions present a host of opportunities for investigating the role interfaces play in this unique class of functional materials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)100-115
Number of pages16
JournalMaterials Today
StatePublished - Nov 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • General Materials Science


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