This Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) development effort seeks to design, construct, and validate an electron-beam based system that can both induce and study nanoscale chemical and physical processes in bulk liquids. In addition to performing electron-microscopy in liquids, the proposed instrument will enable electron-beam based fabrication using liquid reactants while allowing one to spectroscopically analyze the corresponding chemical reactions and fabricated nanostructures. Moreover, the system will enable the study of both nanoscale fluid transport and nanoscale functional materials in operational environments with the added capability to modify those environments using electron-beam induced processes. The nanoscale fabrication capabilities are based on a novel technique in which a focused electron beam deposits or etches materials by inducing localized chemical reactions in liquids. Many of the enabled research efforts are only possible because of the high resolution and purity of these new, liquid-phase processes. The new instrument will also advance understanding in the wide ranging fields of nanoscale photonics (plasmonics and quantum dots), electronics (graphene and semiconductor nanostructures), magnetics (spin-based devices and patterned magnetic structures), fluidics (in situ electrokinetics), and energy storage (in situ studies of battery electrodes). In addition, it brings a new perspective and capability to radiation chemistry by providing a means to studying radiochemical reactions in nanoscale volumes and at solid-liquid interfaces.
The development of a new approach and a new instrument for studying nanoscale processes in liquids will accelerate the scientific and engineering community's efforts to bring nanotechnology to bear on pressing societal problems. Specific research projects enabled by this instrument target medical diagnosis, environmental monitoring, energy production and storage, and materials and devices for information technology. The instrument promises new ways to prototype devices for use in these fields while enabling fundamental discoveries in the underlying disciplines of electrical, mechanical, chemical, materials, and manufacturing engineering, radiation chemistry, and condensed matter physics. The project also interfaces with a variety of educational and outreach efforts impacting students from high school through graduate school, and will contribute to a well trained workforce that is prepared to address highly interdisciplinary problems.