Thermoelectricity and Seebeck effect have long been observed and validated in bulk materials. With the development of advanced tools of materials characterization, here we report the first observation of such an effect in the nanometer scale: in situ directional sputtering of several thermoelectric materials inside electron microscopes. The temperature gradient introduced by the electron beam creates a voltage-drop across the samples, which enhances spontaneous sputtering of specimen ions. The sputtering occurs along a preferential direction determined by the direction of the temperature gradient. A large number of nanoparticles form and accumulate away from the beam location as a result. The sputtering and re-crystallization are found to occur at temperatures far below the melting points of bulk materials. The sputtering occurs even when a liquid nitrogen cooling holder is used to keep the overall temperature at -170°C. This unique phenomenon that occurred in the nanometer scale may provide useful clues to understanding the mechanism of thermoelectric effect.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Physics and Astronomy(all)