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Analytical Chemistry

Missing Piece Of Catalysis Puzzle Found

by Mitch Jacoby
September 7, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 35

An experimental study of metal nanoparticles dispersed on metal oxides has revealed basic thermodynamic information that has eluded scientists for decades. The study provides information needed to improve theoretical models of these widely used industrial catalysts and thereby aids researchers in designing new catalysts that are less expensive, more active, and more selective than ones used today. University of Washington, Seattle, surface chemists Trevor E. James, Stephanie L. Hemmingson, and Charles T. Campbell used an uncommon adsorption calorimetry technique to measure the strength with which copper—across the full size range from individual atoms to nanoparticles—bonds to cerium oxide. From those measurements, the team determined the chemical potential of copper on cerium oxide as a function of copper particle size, the first time such a measurement has been reported for any metal on any metal oxide (ACS Catal. 2015, DOI: 10.1021/acscatal.5b01372). Those data are key to predicting catalytic properties because the chemical potential dictates how strongly reaction intermediates bind to catalyst particles. That bond strength, in turn, controls the rates and mechanistic pathways of catalytic reactions.


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