Reducing Radiation Damage in Soft Matter with Femtosecond-Timed Single-Electron Packets

Elisah J. Vandenbussche, David J. Flannigan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Despite the development of a myriad of mitigation methods, radiation damage continues to be a major limiting factor in transmission electron microscopy. Intriguing results have been reported using pulsed-laser driven and chopped electron beams for modulated dose delivery, but the underlying relationships and effects remain unclear. Indeed, delivering precisely timed single-electron packets to the specimen has yet to be systematically explored, and no direct comparisons to conventional methods within a common parameter space have been made. Here, using a model linear saturated hydrocarbon (n-hexatriacontane, C36H74), we show that precisely timed delivery of each electron to the specimen, with a well-defined and uniform time between arrival, leads to a repeatable reduction in damage compared to conventional ultralow-dose methods for the same dose rate and the same accumulated dose. Using a femtosecond pulsed laser to confine the probability of electron emission to a 300 fs temporal window, we find damage to be sensitively dependent on the time between electron arrival (controlled with the laser repetition rate) and on the number of electrons per packet (controlled with the laser-pulse energy). Relative arrival times of 5, 20, and 100 μs were tested for electron packets comprised of, on average, 1, 5, and 20 electrons. In general, damage increased with decreasing time between electrons and, more substantially, with increasing electron number. Further, we find that improvements relative to conventional methods vanish once a threshold number of electrons per packet is reached. The results indicate that precise electron-by-electron dose delivery leads to a repeatable reduction in irreversible structural damage, and the systematic studies indicate this arises from control of the time between sequential electrons arriving within the same damage radius, all else being equal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6687-6694
Number of pages8
JournalNano letters
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 11 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2019 American Chemical Society.


  • electron microscopy
  • radiation damage
  • radiolysis
  • ultrafast electron microscopy


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