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Scientists watch nanoparticles grow: Analysis allows tailoring materials for switchable windows, solar cells

Posted March 28, 2014
Scientists watch nanoparticles grow
Left: This is the structure of the ammonium metatungstate dissolved in water on atomic length scale. The octahedra consisting of the tungsten ion in the center and the six surrounding oxygen ions partly share corners and edges. Right: This is the structure of the nanoparticles in the ordered crystalline phase. The octahedra exclusively share corners. Credit: Dipankar Saha/Århus University
With DESY’s X-ray light source PETRA III, Danish scientists observed the growth of nanoparticles live. The study shows how tungsten oxide nanoparticles are forming from solution. These particles are used for example for smart windows, which become opaque at the flick of a switch, and they are also used in particular solar cells. The team around lead author Dr. Dipankar Saha from Århus University present their observations in the scientific journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition.


For their investigation, the scientists built a small reaction chamber, which is transparent for X-rays. “We use fine capillaries of sapphire or fused silica which are easily penetrable by X-rays,” said Professor Bo Iversen, head of the research group. In these capillaries, the scientists transformed so-called ammonium metatungstate dissolved in water into nanoparticles at high temperature and high pressure. With the brilliant PETRA III X-ray light, the chemists were able to track the growth of small tungsten trioxide particles (WO3) with a typical size of about ten nanometres from the solution in real time.

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