A group of scientists used a new Scanning Transmission Electron Microscope (STEM) technique to image the electron distribution in electrides, which are ionic compounds, particularly the electrons that float loosely within pockets and appear separate from the atomic network.
Differential Phase Contrast (DPC) in STEM is a new technique that measures and maps a material’s electric fields and charge distributions. It is the first time DPC has been used in this manner. The researchers examined charge images from dozens of such channels and discovered that only a few have the negative charge predicted by theoretical calculations. Others, on the other hand, have significantly less negative or even a minor concentration of positive charge. Their decades of hydrogen experience led to the suggestion that traces of hydrogen, which are virtually impossible to eliminate, are to blame for the observed inhomogeneity, and subsequent detailed calculations confirmed the hypothesis. Neutron scattering experiments supported the hydrogen scenario.
Computer scientists are currently using machine-learning techniques to quickly identify materials with electride signatures so that they can be investigated further. It is already known that electrides are good for storing hydrogen, that they can be used as catalysts, that they can carry large currents due to their high electron mobility, and that they frequently exhibit unusual magnetism, even superconductivity. These and other characteristics make the development of emerging technologies appealing.
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