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Atomic Scale Design of Spinel ZnAl2O4 Nanocrystal Synthesis

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The chemistry of ZnAl2O4 nanocrystal nucleation and growth is examined by X-ray scattering methods, and the results challenge the conventional understanding of its preparation by hydrothermal methods. The common assumption that a specific metal to hydroxide ion (M/OH) ratio is necessary to achieve a phase-pure product is shown to be inadequate. Pair distribution function analysis is used to identify distinct precursor structures, providing an understanding of why particular impurity phases are observed under certain M/OH ratios as heating is applied. In situ X-ray diffraction studies then probe the ZnAl2O4 growth in real time, from which optimal synthesis conditions and the influence of impurities is established. It is found that the heating rate plays a dominant role in impurity formation and dissolution. This observation is explored in three different hydrothermal synthesis methods (microwave, autoclave, and supercritical flow) having different intrinsic heating rates, and methodologies to prepare phase-pure ZnAl2O4 were successfully developed in each case. Ultimately, the atomic scale X-ray scattering information provides concrete guidance to tune the crystallite size, band gap, morphology, and defects of ZnAl2O4 nanocrystals in hydrothermal synthesis establishing a bottom up nonempirical approach to synthesis design.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCrystal Growth and Design
Pages (from-to)1789-1799
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020

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