3D motion of DNA-Au nanoconjugates in graphene liquid cell electron microscopy

Qian Chen, Jessica M. Smith, Jungwon Park, Kwanpyo Kim, Davy Ho, Haider I. Rasool, Alex Zettl, A. Paul Alivisatos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Liquid-phase transmission electron microscopy (TEM) can probe and visualize dynamic events with structural or functional details at the nanoscale in a liquid medium. Earlier efforts have focused on the growth and transformation kinetics of hard material systems, relying on their stability under electron beam. Our recently developed graphene liquid cell technique pushed the spatial resolution of such imaging to the atomic scale but still focused on growth trajectories of metallic nanocrystals. Here, we adopt this technique to imaging three-dimensional (3D) dynamics of soft materials instead, double strand (dsDNA) connecting Au nanocrystals as one example, at nanometer resolution. We demonstrate first that a graphene liquid cell can seal an aqueous sample solution of a lower vapor pressure than previously investigated well against the high vacuum in TEM. Then, from quantitative analysis of real time nanocrystal trajectories, we show that the status and configuration of dsDNA dictate the motions of linked nanocrystals throughout the imaging time of minutes. This sustained connecting ability of dsDNA enables this unprecedented continuous imaging of its dynamics via TEM. Furthermore, the inert graphene surface minimizes sample-substrate interaction and allows the whole nanostructure to rotate freely in the liquid environment; we thus develop and implement the reconstruction of 3D configuration and motions of the nanostructure from the series of 2D projected TEM images captured while it rotates. In addition to further proving the nanoconjugate structural stability, this reconstruction demonstrates 3D dynamic imaging by TEM beyond its conventional use in seeing a flattened and dry sample. Altogether, we foresee the new and exciting use of graphene liquid cell TEM in imaging 3D biomolecular transformations or interaction dynamics at nanometer resolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4556-4561
Number of pages6
JournalNano letters
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 11 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • 3D motion
  • DNA nanotechnology
  • graphene liquid cell TEM

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanical Engineering


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