STROBE solved a century-old scientific problem: Determining the 3D atomic structure of amorphous solids
Amorphous solids such as glass, plastics and rubber are ubiquitous in our daily life and have broad applications ranging from telecommunications to electronics and solar cells. However, due to the lack of any crystal-like long-range order, the traditional X-ray crystallographic methods for extracting the three-dimensional (3D) atomic arrangement of amorphous solids simply do not work. STROBE advanced atomic electron tomography to determine the 3D atomic positions and chemical species of an amorphous solid for the first time – with a stunning precision of 21 picometer. We found that instead of long-range order characteristic of crystals such as diamond, this amorphous metallic glass had regions of short- and medium-range order. Moreover, although the 3D atomic packing is disordered, some regions connect with each other to form crystal-like networks, which exhibit translational but no orientational order. Looking forward, we anticipate this approach will open the door to determining the 3D atomic coordinates of a wide range of amorphous solids, whose impact on non-crystalline solids may be comparable to the first 3D crystal structure solved by x-ray crystallography over a century ago.