In situ synchrotron pair distribution function analysis to monitor synthetic pathways under electromagnetic excitation†
Electromagnetic (EM) fields, specifically microwave radiation (MWR), can significantly influence the synthesis of ceramic oxide materials and promote rapid, low-temperature growth. However, the mechanisms by which EM fields affect the phase formation process are not well understood. A major limitation to increasing this understanding has been the lack of information regarding dynamic changes in local atomic structure during MWR exposure compared to conventional hydrothermal synthesis routes. Here, we utilize in situ synchrotron X-ray pair distribution function (PDF) analysis to monitor MWR-assisted SnO2 nanoparticle synthesis. A clear impact of the EM field is demonstrated, with MWR inducing changes in nearest neighbor distances and peaks in oxygen atomic displacement that do not occur during synthesis without MWR exposure. The observed local structural disorder serves as a precursor to rapid rutile SnO2 nanoparticle crystallization, suggesting that EM field-assisted growth is mediated by changes to the oxygen sublattice. These findings further our understanding of the mechanisms underlying MWR-assisted synthesis and represent a step towards utilizing EM fields to engineer tailored atomic structures for a broad range of applications.