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Curr Opin Colloid Interface Sci. 2012 Dec;17(6):350-359.

Advances in cryogenic transmission electron microscopy for the characterization of dynamic self-assembling nanostructures.

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  • 1Department of Materials Science and Engineering Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA.


Elucidating the structural information of nanoscale materials in their solvent-exposed state is crucial, as a result, cryogenic transmission electron microscopy (cryo-TEM) has become an increasingly popular technique in the materials science, chemistry, and biology communities. Cryo-TEM provides a method to directly visualize the specimen structure in a solution-state through a thin film of vitrified solvent. This technique complements X-ray, neutron, and light scattering methods that probe the statistical average of all species present; furthermore, cryo-TEM can be used to observe changes in structure over time. In the area of self-assembly, this tool has been particularly powerful for the characterization of natural and synthetic small molecule assemblies, as well as hybrid organic-inorganic composites. In this review, we discuss recent advances in cryogenic TEM in the context of self-assembling systems with emphasis on characterization of transitions observed in response to external stimuli.

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