The formation of crystals from solution requires the initial self-assembly of units of matter into stable periodic structures reaching a critical size. The early stages of this process, called nucleation, are very difficult to visualize. Here we describe a novel method that allows real time observation of the dynamics of nucleation and dissolution of sodium chlorate clusters in an ionic liquid solution using in situ transmission electron microscopy. Using ionic liquids as solvent circumvents the problem of evaporation and charging, while the nucleation frequency was reduced by using saturated solutions. We observe simultaneous formation and dissolution of prenucleation clusters, suggesting that high-density fluctuations leading to solid cluster formation exist even under equilibrium conditions. In situ electron diffraction patterns reveal the simultaneous formation of crystalline nuclei of two polymorphic structures, the stable cubic phase and the metastable monoclinic phase, during the earliest stages of nucleation. These results demonstrate that molecules in solution can form clusters of different polymorphic phases independently of their respective solubility.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Colloid and Surface Chemistry