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Transformation of engineered nanomaterials through the prism of silver sulfidation

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Understanding the structure transformation of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) is a grand measurement challenge, which impacts many aspects of ENMs applications, such as their efficacy, safety, and environmental consequence. To address the significant knowledge gap regarding the fundamental kinetic rate and extent of ENM transformation in the environment, we present a comprehensive and mechanistic structural investigation of the transformation, aggregation, and dissolution behavior of a polyvinylpyrrolidone-coated silver nanoparticle (AgNP) suspension upon sulfidation in moderately reduced hard water with fulvic acid and dissolved Na2S. This reaction is among the most prevalent and industrially and environmentally relevant ENMs transformation. Using ex situ transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and both in situ and ex situ synchrotron-based small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) and X-ray diffraction (XRD), we find that sulfidation of faceted AgNPs strongly depends on the crystallographic orientation of the facets, with nanometer-scale passivation layers developed on {111} and {100} facets and continuous nucleation and growth on {110} facets. Nanobeam electron diffraction and atomic resolution imaging show Ag and Ag2S domains both possess a high degree of crystalline order, contradicting amorphous structures as previously reported. In situ SAXS/XRD allowed simultaneous determination of the morphological changes and extent of sulfidation of AgNPs. SAXS/XRD results strongly indicate sulfidation follows first-order reaction kinetics without any aggregation. Aided by their size monodispersity, for the first time, using direct, in situ morphology and atomic-structure probes whose results mutually corroborate, we unequivocally determined the sulfidation rate constant of AgNPs under an environmentally relevant condition (≈0.013 min−1 for 68 nm diameter AgNPs). A rigorous analysis of the long-term sulfidation product of the AgNPs under different S/Ag ratios using ex situ SAXS/XRD clearly demonstrates that the silver mass in the original AgNP and transformed Ag/Ag2S NP is preserved. This result has important environmental implications, strongly suggesting that Ag+ ions, a known highly effective antimicrobial agent, are not leached into the solution during sulfidation of AgNPs. The combined nondestructive methodology can be extended to unfold the structure transformation pathway and kinetics in a broad range of ENM systems.

Graphical abstract: Transformation of engineered nanomaterials through the prism of silver sulfidation

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Supplementary files

Article information

24 Jul 2018
02 Aug 2018
First published
17 Aug 2018

This article is Open Access

Nanoscale Adv., 2019,1, 241-253
Article type

Transformation of engineered nanomaterials through the prism of silver sulfidation

F. Zhang, A. J. Allen, A. C. Johnston-Peck, J. Liu and J. M. Pettibone, Nanoscale Adv., 2019, 1, 241
DOI: 10.1039/C8NA00103K

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