The image designed by Sphere Studio is selected as the Cover of Nature in August.
Electrodeposition of lithium (Li) metal is critical for high-energy batteries. However, the simultaneous formation of a surface corrosion film termed the solid electrolyte interphase (SEI) complicates the deposition process, which underpins our poor understanding of Li metal electrodeposition. Here we decouple these two intertwined processes by outpacing SEI formation at ultrafast deposition current densities while also avoiding mass transport limitations. By using cryogenic electron microscopy, we discover the intrinsic deposition morphology of metallic Li to be that of a rhombic dodecahedron, which is surprisingly independent of electrolyte chemistry or current collector substrate. In a coin cell architecture, these rhombic dodecahedra exhibit near point-contact connectivity with the current collector, which can accelerate inactive Li formation. We propose a pulse-current protocol that overcomes this failure mode by leveraging Li rhombic dodecahedra as nucleation seeds, enabling the subsequent growth of dense Li that improves battery performance compared with a baseline. While Li deposition and SEI formation have always been tightly linked in past studies, our experimental approach enables new opportunities to fundamentally understand these processes decoupled from each other and bring about new insights to engineer better batteries.