SPST Researchers Resolve the atomic structure of alkali metals at room temperature


A research team led by Professor Yi Yu from School of Physical Science and Technology (SPST) at ShanghaiTech University has resolved the room-temperature atomic structure of alkali metals with transmission electron microscopy (TEM). On October 23, this study was published in the journal Nature Communications entitled “Unravelling the room-temperature atomic structure and growth kinetics of lithium metal”. After online, this work has got attention and a research highlight from the journal Nature entitled “How to make violently reactive metals and watch them grow” gave positive comments on this work.

Research Highlight article in Nature

Editors’ Highlights in Nature Communications

Alkali metals are widely studied in various fields such as medicine and battery. However, limited by the chemical reactivity and electron/ion beam sensitivity, the intrinsic atomic structure of alkali metals and its fundamental properties are difficult to be revealed. TEM is a powerful way for the characterization of atomic structure whereas the cryogenic transfer process of sample into the microscope hinders the visualization of room-temperature image and in situ growth process.

Yi Yu’s group concentrates on the imaging of microstructure of electron-beam sensitive materials. Recently, a versatile method was proposed which can produce alkali metals (Li, Na) in-situ in the microscope. Taking alkali salts as the starting materials and electron beam as the trigger, alkali metals could be reduced directly. Combined with low dose aberration corrected imaging technique, the atomic structure of Li and Na were unraveled at room-temperature. Moreover, the oxidation and contact property of alkali metals were investigated. As the lightest metal in the world, lithium metal is regarded as the best anode in lithium-ion batteries. This study offers help to the better understanding of microcosmic mechanism of lithium-ion batteries.

Formation of alkali metals in TEM and corresponding atomic images of Li and Na

In this paper, Ph.D. student Chao Liang is the first author, professor Yi Yu is the corresponding author, SPST is the only affiliation. Postdoc fellow Xun Zhang, professor Wei Liu, undergraduate student Jiayi Wu and engineer Weiyan Liu from Center for High-resolution Electron Microscopy (CћEM) have also participated into the work. Electron microscopy characterization has got support from professor Osamu Terasaki and CћEM. This work is supported by the National Key Research and Development Program of China, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Natural Science Foundation of Shanghai, and startup funding from ShanghaiTech University.

Group members of Yi Yu’s group


Research team of CћEM, SPST, ShanghaiTech University


Link for the articlehttps://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-19206-w

Editor’s highlights in Nature Communications: https://www.nature.com/collections/wtpqpqpgwd

Research highlight in Nature: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-03029-2