Fabrication of crystals from single metal atoms

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Nicolas P. E. Barry
  • Anais Pitto-Barry
  • Ana M. Sanchez
  • Richard J. Procter
  • Joan J. Soldevila-Barreda
  • Nigel Kirby
  • Ian Hands-Portman
  • Corinne J. Smith
  • Richard Beanland
  • Peter J. Sadler

Colleges, School and Institutes


Metal nanocrystals offer new concepts for the design of nanodevices with a range of potential applications. Currently the formation of metal nanocrystals cannot be controlled at the level of individual atoms. Here we describe a new general method for the fabrication of multi-heteroatom-doped graphitic matrices decorated with very small, ångström-sized, three-dimensional (3D)-metal crystals of defined size. We irradiate boron-rich precious-metal-encapsulated self-spreading polymer micelles with electrons and produce, in real time, a doped graphitic support on which individual osmium atoms hop and migrate to form 3D-nanocrystals, as small as 15 Å in diameter, within 1 h. Crystal growth can be observed, quantified and controlled in real time. We also synthesize the first examples of mixed ruthenium–osmium 3D-nanocrystals. This technology not only allows the production of ångström-sized homo- and hetero-crystals, but also provides new experimental insight into the dynamics of nanocrystals and pathways for their assembly from single atoms.


Original languageEnglish
Article number3851
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2014