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Physical Chemistry

Hydrated Electrons Probed Experimentally

Determining fundamental properties of electrons in aqueous solution could provide the key to understanding their role in breaking bonds

by Jyllian N. Kemsley
March 8, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 10

Electrons in aqueous solution, also known as hydrated electrons, can be formed by ionizing radiation in cells and are of interest for their role in free-radical formation and DNA damage. Now, five decades after their original discovery, researchers have finally found a way to determine fundamental properties of such electrons, reports a group led by Bernd Abel of Leipzig University, in Germany (Nat. Chem., DOI: 10.1038/nchem.580). The researchers generated solutions with solvated electrons by using an ultraviolet laser pulse and then studied the solutions using ultrafast liquid-jet photoelectron spectroscopy. They found that the energy to eject a hydrated electron from bulk liquid water into a vacuum, or the electron’s vertical binding energy (VBE), is 3.3 eV. The VBE of an electron at a water surface is 1.6 eV. Both values are similar to those estimated from studies of water cluster anions. The researchers hypothesize that solvated electrons at interfaces, such as hydrophilic-hydrophobic regions of cells or proteins, may be key to understanding the role of the species in breaking chemical bonds.


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