As the applications for inorganic nanowires continuously grow, studies on the stability of these structures under high electrical/thermal stress conditions are needed. ZnTe nanowires are grown by the vapor-liquid-solid technique and their breakdown under Joule heating is studied through in situ monitoring in a transmission electron microscope (TEM). The experimental setup, consisting of a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) and a movable piezotube inside the TEM, allows the manipulation of a single nanowire. A voltage applied to the STM tip in contact with a ZnTe nanowire leads to the breakdown of the nanowire into Zn and Te particles or balls which is observed in real time. These balls grow by Ostwald ripening, rendering the surface morphology of the ZnTe nanowire progressively rough. Diffraction patterns along the stem of the wire after the partial breakdown showed substantially smaller lattice spacing compared to 0.35 nm for pristine ZnTe nanowires.
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