Nanoscale chemical analysis of beam-sensitive polymeric materials by cryogenic electron microscopy

Zino J.W.A. Leijten, Maarten J.M. Wirix, Sorin Lazar, Wouter Verhoeven, O. Jom Luiten, Gijsbertus de With, Heiner Friedrich (Corresponding author)

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Nanoscale chemical analysis of functional polymer systems by electron microscopy, to gain access into degradation processes during the materials life cycle, is still a formidable challenge due to their beam sensitivity. Here a systematic study on the different stages of degradation in a P3HT-PCBM organic photovoltaic (OPV) model system is presented. To this end pristine samples, samples with (reversibly) physisorbed oxygen and water and samples with (irreversibly) chemisorbed oxygen and water are imaged utilizing the full capabilities of cryogenic STEM-EELS. It is found that oxygen and water are largely physisorbed in this system leading to significant effects on the band structure, especially for PCBM. Quantification proves that degradation concomitantly decreases the amount of C-C bonds and increases the amount of C-O-C bonds in the sample. Finally, it is shown that with a pulsed electron beam utilizing a microwave cavity, beam damage can be significantly reduced which likely extends the possibilities for such studies in future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1221-1231
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Polymer Science
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2021


  • band structure
  • cryogenic (scanning) transmission electron microscopy
  • degradation pathways
  • electron energy loss spectroscopy
  • organic photovoltaics
  • pulsed electron beams


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