Direct Imaging of Hydrogen-Atom Columns in a Crystal by Annular Bright-Field Electron Microscopy

Nat Mater. 2011 Apr;10(4):278-81. doi: 10.1038/nmat2957. Epub 2011 Feb 13.


Enhancing the imaging power of microscopy to identify all chemical types of atom, from low- to high-atomic-number elements,would significantly contribute for a direct determination of material structures. Electron microscopes have successfully provided images of heavy-atom positions, particularly by the annular dark-field method, but detection of light atoms was difficult owing to their weak scattering power. Recent developments of aberration-correction electron optics have significantly advanced the microscope performance, enabling identification of individual light atoms such as oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, boron and lithium. However, the lightest hydrogen atom has not yet been observed directly, except in the specific condition of hydrogen adatoms on a graphene membrane. Here we show the first direct imaging of the hydrogen atom in a crystalline solid YH(2), based on a classic 'hollow-cone' illumination theory combined with state-of-the-art scanning transmission electronmicroscopy. The optimized hollow-cone condition derived from the aberration-corrected microscope parameters confirms that the information transfer can be extended to 22.5 nm(-1), which corresponds to a spatial resolution of about 44.4 pm. These experimental conditions can be readily realized with the annular bright-field imaging in scanning transmission electron microscopy according to reciprocity, revealing successfully the hydrogen-atom columns as dark dots, as anticipated from phase contrast of a weak-phase object.

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  • Letter