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Atomic mechanism of metal crystal nucleus formation in a single-walled carbon nanotube

Cao, Kecheng; Biskupek, Johannes; Stoppiello, Craig T.; McSweeney, Robert L.; Chamberlain, Thomas W.; Liu, Zheng; Suenaga, Kazu; Skowron, Stephen T.; Besley, Elena; Khlobystov, Andrei N.; Kaiser, Ute


Kecheng Cao

Johannes Biskupek

Craig T. Stoppiello

Robert L. McSweeney

Thomas W. Chamberlain

Zheng Liu

Kazu Suenaga

Stephen T. Skowron

Ute Kaiser


Knowing how crystals nucleate at the atomic scale is crucial for understanding, and in turn controlling, the structure and properties of a wide variety of materials. However, because of the scale and highly dynamic nature of nuclei, the formation and early growth of nuclei are very difficult to observe. Here, we have employed single-walled carbon nanotubes as test tubes, and an ‘atomic injector’ coupled with aberration-corrected transmission electron microscopy, to enable in situ imaging of the initial steps of nucleation at the atomic scale. With three different metals we observed three main processes prior to heterogeneous nucleation: formation of crystal nuclei directly from an atomic seed (Fe), from a pre-existing amorphous nanocluster (Au) or by coalescence of two separate amorphous sub-nanometre clusters (Re). We demonstrate the roles of the amorphous precursors and the existence of an energy barrier before nuclei formation. In all three cases, crystal nucleus formation occurred through a two-step nucleation mechanism.


Cao, K., Biskupek, J., Stoppiello, C. T., McSweeney, R. L., Chamberlain, T. W., Liu, Z., …Kaiser, U. (2020). Atomic mechanism of metal crystal nucleus formation in a single-walled carbon nanotube. Nature Chemistry, 12, 921–928.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 31, 2020
Online Publication Date Aug 28, 2020
Publication Date 2020-10
Deposit Date Oct 23, 2020
Publicly Available Date Mar 1, 2021
Journal Nature Chemistry
Print ISSN 1755-4330
Electronic ISSN 1755-4349
Publisher Nature Publishing Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 12
Pages 921–928
Keywords General Chemistry; General Chemical Engineering
Public URL
Publisher URL


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