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Localizing individual hydrogen atoms in material nanostructures
Mapping-Hydrogen-in-steel-with-APTHydrogen inclusions in metal severely affect the material properties, making it less resistant. To avoid failures of steel or other metals due to hydrogen embrittlement and cracks, scientists need to precisely locate the atoms of hydrogen.

Atom Probe Tomography (APT) is one of the best suited analytical technique as it can determine the identity and position of nearly every atom in almost any nanoscale material sample, in 3 dimensions.  3D mapping of hydrogen atoms has nevertheless remained challenging, even with APT instrumentation, because hydrogen atoms are so mobile.

Researchers at ETH Zürich have developed a unique cryogenic transfer protocol for their LEAP Atom Probe, allowing to immobilize the hydrogen in the microstructure before APT analysis. Together with material scientists of the University of Oxford, they have succeeded in three-dimensionally mapping individual volatile hydrogen atoms in a solid material for the first time, using the ETH Zürich LEAP Atom Probe.

The results of this milestone research project have just been published in Science: Direct observation of individual hydrogen atoms at trapping sites in a ferritic steel, Y.S. Chen et al. Science Vol. 355, pp 1196-1199 (17 Mar 2017)

ETH Zürich and Oxford University scientists are confident that low-temperature APT can be of interest for many other materials, including rubber or polymers, and even liquids!

The above illustration, courtesy of Stephan Gerstl, ETH Zürich, shows heavy hydrogen atoms (deuterium, red, localized in space) in a volume of around 20x20x30 nanometres of a steel sample. Purple: iron atoms (for reasons of visibility, one fifth of the atoms are shown). 



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