Unravelling the nucleation, growth, and faceting of magnetite–gold nanohybrids†
The chemical synthesis of nanoparticles with a preassigned size and shape is important for an optimized performance in any application. Therefore, systematic monitoring of the synthesis is required for the control and detailed understanding of the nucleation and growth of the nanoparticles. Here, we study Fe3O4–Au hybrid nanoparticles in detail using probes of the reaction mixture during synthesis and their thorough characterization. The proposed approach eliminates the problem of repeatability and reproducibility of the chemical synthesis and was carried out using laboratory equipment (standard transmission electron microscopy, X-ray diffraction, and magnetometry) for typically 10 μL samples instead of, for example, a dedicated synthesis and inspection at a synchrotron radiation facility. From the three independent experimental techniques we extract the nanoparticle size at 12 stages of the synthesis. These diameters show identical trends and good quantitative agreement. Two consecutive processes occur during the synthesis of Fe3O4–Au nanoparticles, the nucleation and the growth of spherical Fe3O4 nanoparticles on the surface of Au seeds during the heating stage and their faceting towards octahedral shape during reflux. The final nanoparticles with sizes of 15 nm Fe3O4 and 4 nm Au exhibit superparamagnetic behavior at ambient temperature. These are high-quality, close to stoichiometric Fe3O4 nanocrystals with nearly volumetric magnetic behavior as confirmed by the presence of the Verwey transition. Understanding the processes occurring during the synthesis allows the nanoparticle size and shape to be adjusted, improving their capabilities in biomedical applications.