Cooperative inter- and intra-layer lattice dynamics of photoexcited multi-walled carbon nanotubes studied by ultrafast electron diffraction
Optical tuning and probing ultrafast structural response of nanomaterials driven by electronic excitation constitute a challenging but promising approach for understanding microscopic mechanisms and applications in microelectromechanical systems and optoelectrical devices. Here we use pulsed electron diffraction in a transmission electron microscope to investigate laser-induced tubular lattice dynamics of multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) with varying laser fluence and initial specimen temperature. Our photoexcitation experiments demonstrate cooperative and inverse collective atomic motions in intralayer and interlayer directions, whose strengths and rates depend on pump fluence. The electron-driven and thermally driven structural responses with opposite amplitudes cause a crossover between intralayer and interlayer directions. Our ab initio calculations support these findings and reveal that electrons excited from π to π* orbitals in a carbon tube weaken the intralayer bonds while strengthening the interlayer bonds along the radial direction. Moreover, by probing the structural dynamics of MWCNTs at initial temperatures of 300 and 100 K, we uncover the concomitance of thermal and nonthermal dynamical processes and their mutual influence in MWCNTs. Our results illustrate the nature of electron-driven nonthermal process and electron–phonon thermalization in the MWCNTs, and bear implications for the intricate energy conversion and transfer in materials at the nanoscale.