Recent experimental explorations of non-classical nucleation
Nucleation, the early stage of crystallization, is a key step in producing functional materials, but nucleation processes have yet to be understood in detail. Recent advanced characterization techniques, especially atomic force microscopy, liquid-cell transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and cryo-TEM, enable scientists to observe previously inaccessible nucleation details at the nanoscale. In this review, we summarize newly suggested non-classical nucleation models with respect to mechanistic understanding from experimental views, which highlight multi-step nucleation mechanisms. Different intermediated phases such as clusters at the pre-nucleation stage, liquid-like precursors, amorphous phases and even oligomers have been revealed, which play vital roles in nucleation and structure control. Moreover, these intermediated phases practically contribute in general to the structural variances of materials for nanoscience and nanotechnology. Overall, these studies ultimately enable us to control nucleation processes for materials synthesis.