When ZnO nanobelts are exposed to a high-dose electron probe of several nanometers to hundred nanometers in diameter inside a transmission electron microscope, due to the radiolysis effect, part of oxygen atoms will be ejected into the vacuum and leaving a Zn-ion rich surface with a pit appearance at both the electron-entrance and electron-exit surfaces. At the same time, a temperature distribution is created around the electron probe due to local beam heating effect, which generates a unidirectional pyroelectric field. This pyroelectric field is strong enough to drive Zn ions moving along its positive c-axis direction as interstitial ions. In the first case, for the ZnO nanobelts with c-axis lie in their large surfaces, defects due to the aggregation of Zn interstitial ions will be formed at some distances of 30–50 nm approximately along the c-axis direction from the electron beam illuminated area. Alternatively, for the ZnO nanobelts with ±(0001) planes as their large surfaces, the incident electron beam is along its c-axis and the generated pyroelectric field will drive the interstitial Zn-ions to aggregate at the Zn terminated (0001) surface where the local electrical potential is the lowest. Such electron beam induced damage in ZnO nanostructures is suggested as a result of Zn ion diffusion driven by the temperature gradient induced pyroelectric field along c-axis. Our study shows a radiation damage caused by electron beam in transmission electron microscopy, especially when the electron energy is high.

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