Avalanching strain dynamics during the hydriding phase transformation in individual palladium nanoparticles
Phase transitions in reactive environments are crucially important in energy and information storage, catalysis and sensors. Nanostructuring active particles can yield faster charging/discharging kinetics, increased lifespan and record catalytic activities. However, establishing the causal link between structure and function is challenging for nanoparticles, as ensemble measurements convolve intrinsic single-particle properties with sample diversity. Here we study the hydriding phase transformation in individual palladium nanocubes in situ using coherent X-ray diffractive imaging. The phase transformation dynamics, which involve the nucleation and propagation of a hydrogen-rich region, are dependent on absolute time (aging) and involve intermittent dynamics (avalanching). A hydrogen-rich surface layer dominates the crystal strain in the hydrogen-poor phase, while strain inversion occurs at the cube corners in the hydrogen-rich phase. A three-dimensional phase-field model is used to interpret the experimental results. Our experimental and theoretical approach provides a general framework for designing and optimizing phase transformations for single nanocrystals in reactive environments.