Enabling three-dimensional real-space analysis of ionic colloidal crystallization

Shihao Zang, Adam W. Hauser, Sanjib Paul, Glen M. Hocky, Stefano Sacanna

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Structures of molecular crystals are identified using scattering techniques because we cannot see inside them. Micrometre-sized colloidal particles enable the real-time observation of crystallization with optical microscopy, but in practice this is still hampered by a lack of ‘X-ray vision’. Here we introduce a system of index-matched fluorescently labelled colloidal particles and demonstrate the robust formation of ionic crystals in aqueous solution, with structures that can be controlled by size ratio and salt concentration. Full three-dimensional coordinates of particles are distinguished through in situ confocal microscopy, and the crystal structures are identified via comparison of their simulated scattering pattern with known atomic arrangements. Finally, we leverage our ability to look inside colloidal crystals to observe the motion of defects and crystal melting in time and space and to reveal the origin of crystal twinning. Using this platform, the path to real-time analysis of ionic colloidal crystallization is now ‘crystal clear’.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalNature Materials
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Materials Science
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering


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