Electron Microscopy Studies of Soft Nanomaterials

Zhiheng Lyu, Lehan Yao, Wenxiang Chen, Falon C. Kalutantirige, Qian Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


This review highlights recent efforts on applying electron microscopy (EM) to soft (including biological) nanomaterials. We will show how developments of both the hardware and software of EM have enabled new insights into the formation, assembly, and functioning (e.g., energy conversion and storage, phonon/photon modulation) of these materials by providing shape, size, phase, structural, and chemical information at the nanometer or higher spatial resolution. Specifically, we first discuss standard real-space two-dimensional imaging and analytical techniques which are offered conveniently by microscopes without special holders or advanced beam technology. The discussion is then extended to recent advancements, including visualizing three-dimensional morphology of soft nanomaterials using electron tomography and its variations, identifying local structure and strain by electron diffraction, and recording motions and transformation by in situ EM. On these advancements, we cover state-of-the-art technologies designed for overcoming the technical barriers for EM to characterize soft materials as well as representative application examples. The even more recent integration of machine learning and its impacts on EM are also discussed in detail. With our perspectives of future opportunities offered at the end, we expect this review to inspire and stimulate more efforts in developing and utilizing EM-based characterization methods for soft nanomaterials at the atomic to nanometer length scales in academic research and industrial applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4051-4145
Number of pages95
JournalChemical reviews
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 12 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry


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