ZnCr₂O₄ Inclusions in ZnO Matrix Investigated by Probe-Corrected STEM-EELS

Materials (Basel). 2019 Mar 16;12(6):888. doi: 10.3390/ma12060888.


The ZnCr₂O₄/ZnO materials system has a wide range of potential applications, for example, as a photocatalytic material for waste-water treatment and gas sensing. In this study, probe-corrected high-resolution scanning transmission electron microscopy and geometric phase analysis were utilized to study the dislocation structure and strain distribution at the interface between zinc oxide (ZnO) and embedded zinc chromium oxide (ZnCr₂O₄) particles. Ball-milled and dry-pressed ZnO and chromium oxide (α-Cr₂O₃) powder formed ZnCr₂O₄ inclusions in ZnO with size ~400 nm, where the interface properties depended on the interface orientation. In particular, sharp interfaces were observed for ZnO [2113]/ZnCr₂O₄ [110] orientations, while ZnO [1210]/ZnCr₂O₄ [112] orientations revealed an interface over several atomic layers, with a high density of dislocations. Further, monochromated electron energy-loss spectroscopy was employed to map the optical band gap of ZnCr₂O₄ nanoparticles in the ZnO matrix and their interface, where the average band gap of ZnCr₂O4 nanoparticles was measured to be 3.84 ± 0.03 eV, in contrast to 3.22 ± 0.01 eV for the ZnO matrix.

Keywords: interface strain, band gap, scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM), electron energy-loss spectroscopy (EELS), ZnO, ZnCr2O4.