New Technique Allows Drexel Researchers to Scrape Beyond the Surface of Nanomaterials

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A brand new approach utilizing secondary-ion mass spectrometry has given Drexel researchers a recent have a look at the two-dimensional supplies they’ve been learning for greater than a decade.

Since the preliminary discovery of what has turn into a quickly rising household of two-dimensional layered supplies — referred to as MXenes — in 2011, Drexel University researchers have made regular progress in understanding the complicated chemical composition and construction, in addition to the bodily and electrochemical properties, of those exceptionally versatile supplies. More than a decade later, superior devices and a brand new strategy have allowed the group to look inside the atomic layers to raised perceive the connection between the supplies’ kind and performance.

In a paper just lately printed in Nature Nanotechnology, researchers from Drexel’s College of Engineering and Poland’s Warsaw Institute of Technology and Institute of Microelectronics and Photonics reported a brand new approach to have a look at the atoms that make up MXenes and their precursor supplies, MAX phases, utilizing a way referred to as secondary ion mass spectrometry. In doing so, the group found atoms in areas the place they weren’t anticipated and imperfections within the two-dimensional supplies that would clarify a few of their distinctive bodily properties. They additionally demonstrated the existence of a wholly new subfamily of MXenes, referred to as oxycarbides, that are two-dimensional supplies the place as much as 30% of carbon atoms are changed by oxygen.

This discovery will allow researchers to construct new MXenes and different nanomaterials with tunable properties finest fitted to particular purposes from antennas for 5G and 6G wi-fi communication and shields for electromagnetic interference; to filters for hydrogen manufacturing, storage and separation; to wearable kidneys for dialysis sufferers.

“Better understanding of the detailed structure and composition of two-dimensional materials will allow us to unlock their full potential,” stated Yury Gogotsi, PhD, Distinguished University and Bach professor within the College, who led the MXene characterization analysis. “We now have a clearer picture of why MXenes behave the way they do and will be able to tailor their structure and therefore behaviors for important new applications.”

Secondary-ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) is a generally used approach to check strong surfaces and skinny movies and the way their chemistry adjustments with depth. It works by taking pictures a beam of charged particles at a pattern, which bombards the atoms on the floor of the fabric and ejects them — a course of referred to as sputtering. The ejected ions are detected, collected and recognized based mostly on their mass and function indicators of the composition of the fabric.

While SIMS has been used to check multi-layered supplies over time, the depth decision has been restricted inspecting the floor of a cloth (a number of angstroms). A group led by Pawel Michalowski, PhD, from Poland’s Institute of Microelectronics and Photonics, made numerous enhancements to the approach, together with adjusting the angle and vitality of the beam, how the ejected ions are measured; and cleansing the floor of the samples, which allowed them to sputter samples layer by layer. This allowed the researchers to view the pattern with an atom-level decision that had not been beforehand attainable.

“The closest technique for analysis of thin layers and surfaces of MXenes is X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, which we have been using at Drexel starting from the discovery of the first MXene,” stated Mark Anayee, a doctoral candidate in Gogotsi’s group. “While XPS only gave us a look at the surface of the materials, SIMS lets us analyze the layers beneath the surface. It allows us to ‘remove’ precisely one layer of atoms at a time without disturbing the ones beneath it. This can give us a much clearer picture that would not be possible with any other laboratory technique.”

As the group peeled again the higher layer of atoms, like an archaeologist fastidiously unearthing a brand new discover, the researchers started to see the delicate options of the chemical scaffolding inside the layers of supplies, revealing the sudden presence and positioning of atoms, and numerous defects and imperfections.

“We demonstrated the formation of oxygen-containing MXenes, so-called oxycarbides. This represents a new subfamily of MXenes – which is a big discovery!” stated Gogotsi. “Our results suggest that for every carbide MXene, there is an oxycarbide MXene, where oxygen replaces some carbon atoms in the lattice structure.”

Since MAX and MXenes symbolize a big household of supplies, the researchers additional explored extra complicated methods that embody a number of steel parts. They made a number of pathbreaking observations, together with the intermixing of atoms in chromium-titanium carbide MXene — which had been beforehand regarded as separated into distinct layers. And they confirmed earlier findings, akin to the whole separation of molybdenum atoms to outer layers and titanium atoms to the inside layer in molybdenum-titanium carbide.

All of those findings are vital for growing MXenes with a finely tuned construction and improved properties, in response to Gogotsi.

“We can now control not only the total elemental composition of MXenes, but also know in which atomic layers the specific elements like carbon, oxygen, or metals are located,” stated Gogotsi. “We know that eliminating oxygen helps to increase the environmental stability of titanium carbide MXene and increase its electronic conductivity. Now that we have a better understanding of how much additional oxygen is in the materials, we can adjust the recipe – so to speak – to produce MXenes that do not have it, and as a result more stable in the environment.” 

The group additionally plans to discover methods to separate layers of chromium and titanium, which can assist it develop MXenes with enticing magnetic properties. And now that the SIMS approach has confirmed to be efficient, Gogotsi plans to make use of it in future analysis, together with his latest $3 million U.S. Department of Energy-funded effort to discover MXenes for hydrogen storage – an vital step towards the event of a brand new sustainable vitality supply.

“In many ways, studying MXenes for the last decade has been mapping uncharted territory,” stated Gogotsi. “With this new approach, we have better guidance on where to look for new materials and applications.”

Additional authors embody Sylwia Kozdram Iwona, Jóźwik, Anna Piatkowska, Mołgorzata Możdżonek, Angieszka Malinowska, Ryszard Diduszko, and Edyta Wierzbicka, from the Institute of Microelectronics and Photonics; and Tyler S. Mathis and Kanit Hantanasirisakul, from Drexel; and Adrianna Wójcik from each the Institute of Microelectronics and Warsaw Institute of Technology. The work was funded by Poland’s National Science Centre and National Centre for Research and Development; and the U.S. Department of Energy and National Science Foundation.

Read the total paper right here:

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