Liquid cell electron microscopy is an imaging technique allowing for the investigation of the interaction of liquids and solids at nanoscopic length scales. Such in situ observations are increasingly in-demand in an array of fields, from biological sciences to medicine to batteries. Graphene liquid cells (GLCs), in particular, have generated a great interest as a low-scattering window material with the potential for increasing the quality of both imaging and spectroscopy. However, preserving the stability of the liquid and of the sample in the GLC remains a considerable challenge. In the present work we encapsulate water and hydroxyapatite (HAP), a pH-sensitive biological material, in GLCs to observe the interactions between the graphene, HAP, and the electron beam. HAP was chosen for several reasons. One is its ubiquity in biological specimens such as bones and teeth, and the second is the presence of phosphate ions in common buffer solutions. Finally, there is its sensitivity to changes in pH, which result from beam-induced hydrolysis in liquid cells. A dynamic process of dissolution and recrystallization of HAP was observed, which correlated with the production of H+ ions by the beam during imaging. In addition, a large increase in the stability of the GLC under irradiation was noted. Specifically, no stable hydrogen bubbles were detected under the electron fluxes routinely exceeding 170 e-Å-2s-1. With the measured threshold dose for the bubble formation in pure water equaling 9 e-Å-2s-1, it was concluded that the presence of HAP increases the resistance of water against radiolysis in the GLC by more than an order of magnitude. These results confirm the possibility of using biological materials, such as HAP, as stabilizers in liquid cell electron microscopy. They outline a potential route for stabilization of specimens in liquid cells through the addition of a scavenger of reactive species generated by the beam-induced hydrolysis of water. These improvements are essential for enhancing both the resolution of imaging and the available imaging time, as well as avoiding the beam-induced artifacts.© 2021 IOP Publishing Ltd.
About The Expert
Robert F Klie