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    • 2019-04-23 20:05:02
    • Article ID: 711824

    Capturing the behavior of single-atom catalysts on the move

    Scientists precisely control where single-atom catalysts sit on their support structures, and show how changing their position affects their reactivity.

    • Credit: Greg Stewart, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

      A new study precisely controlled the attachment of platinum atoms (white balls) to a titanium dioxide surface (latticework of red and blue balls). It found that their positions varied from being deeply embedded in the surface (lower left) to standing almost free of the surface (upper right). This change in position affected the atoms’ ability to catalyze a chemical reaction that converts carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide (upper right).

    Scientists are excited by the prospect of stripping catalysts down to single atoms. Attached by the millions to a supporting surface, they could offer the ultimate in speed and specificity.

    Now researchers have taken an important step toward understanding single-atom catalysts by deliberately tweaking how they’re attached to the surfaces that support them – in this case the surfaces of nanoparticles. They attached one platinum atom to each nanoparticle and observed how changing the chemistry of the particle’s surface and the nature of the attachment affected how keen the atom was to catalyze reactions.

    Key experiments for the study took place at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, and the results were reported in Nature Materials yesterday.

    “We believe this is the first time the reactivity of a metallic single-atom catalyst has been traced to a specific way of attaching it to a particular supporting structure. This study is also unique in systematically controlling that attachment,” said Simon R. Bare, a distinguished staff scientist at SLAC’s Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) and a co-author of the study.

    “This is an important scientific breakthrough, and understanding on a fundamental level how the structure relates to the reactivity will ultimately allow us to design catalysts to be much more efficient. There is a huge number of people working on this problem.”

    Harsh treatment, good results

    Bare and other SLAC scientists were part of a previous study at SSRL that found that individual iridium atoms could catalyze a particular reaction up to 25 times more efficiently than the iridium nanoparticles used today, which contain 50 to 100 atoms.

    This latest study was led by Associate Professor Phillip Christopher of the University of California, Santa Barbara. It looked at individual atoms of platinum that were attached to separate nanoparticles of titanium dioxide in his lab. While this approach would probably not be practical in a chemical plant or in your car’s catalytic converter, it did give the research team exquisitely fine control of where the atoms were placed and of the environment immediately around them, Bare said.

    Researchers gave the nanoparticles chemical treatments – either harsh or mild – and used SSRL’s X-rays to observe how those treatments changed where and how the platinum atoms attached to the surface.

    Meanwhile, scientists at the University of California, Irvine directly observed the attachments and positions of the platinum atoms with electron microscopes, and researchers at UC-Santa Barbara measured how active the platinum atoms were in catalyzing reactions.

    Breaking through the surface

    A platinum atom has six binding sites where it can hook up with other atoms. In untreated nanoparticles, the atoms were buried in the surface and firmly bound to six oxygen atoms each; they had no free binding sites that could grab other atoms and start a catalytic reaction.

    In mildly treated particles, the platinum atoms emerged from the surface and were bound to just four oxygen atoms apiece, leaving them two free binding sites and the potential for more catalytic activity.

    And in harshly treated particles, the atoms clung to the surface by only two bonds, leaving four binding sites free. When the researchers tested the ability of the variously treated nanoparticles to catalyze a reaction where carbon monoxide combines with oxygen to form carbon dioxide – the same reaction that takes place in a car’s catalytic converter – this one came out on top, Bare said, with five times greater activity than the others.

    “While this study shows the importance of understanding the dynamic nature of catalysts,” Christopher said, “the next challenge will be to translate the findings to industrially relevant systems.”

    SSRL is a DOE Office of Science user facility. The changing positions of the platinum atoms on the particle surfaces were imaged and observed with transmission electron microscopy using state-of-the-art facilities recently established at the Irvine Materials Research Institute (IMRI) at UC-Irvine. Detailed experimental insights obtained in the study were correlated with predictions made by theorists at the University of Milano-Bicocca in Italy.


    SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, Calif., SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

    SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.

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    Ames Laboratory names James Morris Chief Research Officer

    Ames Laboratory names James Morris Chief Research Officer

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    Brookhaven's Mircea Cotlet Named a Battelle "Inventor of the Year"

    Brookhaven's Mircea Cotlet Named a Battelle "Inventor of the Year"

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    Cryogenics equipment maker licenses ORNL auto-fill method for more efficient liquid helium use

    Cryogenics equipment maker licenses ORNL auto-fill method for more efficient liquid helium use

    Advanced Research Systems has licensed an ORNL technology designed to automatically refill liquid helium used in laboratory equipment for low-temperature scientific experiments, which will reduce downtime, recover more helium and increase overall efficiency.

    New Argonne coating could have big implications for lithium batteries

    New Argonne coating could have big implications for lithium batteries

    In a new discovery, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have developed a new cathode coating by using an oxidative chemical vapor deposition technique. The new coating can keep the battery's cathode electrically and ionically conductive and ensures that the battery stays safe after many cycles.

    Argonne's Chain Reaction Innovations appoints first advisory council

    Argonne's Chain Reaction Innovations appoints first advisory council

    World-class energy leaders will offer their expertise to Chain Reaction Innovations (CRI), the entrepreneurship program at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory, as part of a new Advisory Council announced today. CRI has named 14 Advisory Council members, including investors, industry experts and business executives, to help guide its growth and strategy.

    ORNL, Lincoln Electric to Advance Large-Scale Metal Additive Manufacturing Technology

    ORNL, Lincoln Electric to Advance Large-Scale Metal Additive Manufacturing Technology

    The new agreement builds upon ORNL and Lincoln Electric's previous developments by extending additive technology to new materials, leveraging data analytics and enabling rapid manufacture of metal components in excess of 100 pounds per hour.

    Students from Minnesota and Massachusetts Win DOE's 29th National Science Bowl(r)

    Students from Wayzata High School in Plymouth, Minnesota, won the 2019 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Science Bowl(r) (NSB) today in Washington, D.C. In the middle school competition, students from Jonas Clarke Middle School in Lexington, Massachusetts, took home first place.

    Five new innovators join Chain Reaction Innovations in third cohort

    Five new innovators join Chain Reaction Innovations in third cohort

    Five new innovators will be joining Chain Reaction Innovations (CRI), the entrepreneurship program at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Argonne National Laboratory, as part of the elite program's third cohort. Announced on Monday, April 22, these innovators were selected following an extensive national solicitation process and two-part pitch competition, with reviews from industry experts, investors, scientists and engineers.


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    Tiny Vortices Could One Day Haul Microscopic Cargo

    Tiny Vortices Could One Day Haul Microscopic Cargo

    The behavior of active magnetic liquids suggests new pathways to transport particles across surfaces and build materials that self-heal.

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    Raised on Copper: A New Material for Tougher Devices

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    Weighty Polymers Impact Battery Stability and Safety

    Materials prevent battery failure by inhibiting tree-like growths.

    Laser Focus Shines Light on How Nanoparticles Form

    Laser Focus Shines Light on How Nanoparticles Form

    Titan supercomputer tells origin story of nanoparticle size distributions with large-scale simulations.

    Improving Isotope Supply for a Cancer-Fighting Drug

    Improving Isotope Supply for a Cancer-Fighting Drug

    Production of actinium-227 ramps up for use in a drug to fight prostate cancer that has spread to bone.

    Extracting Signs of the Elusive Neutrino

    Extracting Signs of the Elusive Neutrino

    Scientists use software to "develop" images that trace neutrinos' interactions in a bath of cold liquid argon.

    Slow Charge Generation Plays Big Role in Model Material for Solar Cells

    Slow Charge Generation Plays Big Role in Model Material for Solar Cells

    Insight about energy flow in copper-based material could aid in creating efficient molecular electronics.

    Capturing Energy Flow in a Plasma by Measuring Scattered Light

    Capturing Energy Flow in a Plasma by Measuring Scattered Light

    First measurements of heat flux in plasmas experientially sheds light on models relying on classical thermal transport.

    Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning Accelerate Efforts to Develop Clean, Virtually Limitless Fusion Energy

    Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning Accelerate Efforts to Develop Clean, Virtually Limitless Fusion Energy

    The Fusion Recurrent Neural Network reliably forecasts disruptive and destructive events in tokamaks.

    Spin Flipper Upends Protons

    Spin Flipper Upends Protons

    The spin direction of protons was reversed, for the first time, using a nine-magnet device, potentially helping tease out details about protons that affect medical imaging and more.


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