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York Nanocentre researchers image individual atoms in a living catalytic reaction

Posted on 12 July 2013

Groundbreaking new electron microscopy technology developed at the York JEOL Nanocentre at the University of York is allowing researchers to observe and analyse single atoms, small clusters and nanoparticles in dynamic in-situ experiments for the first time.

Annalen der Physik

The influential work being carried out at York is opening up striking new opportunities for observing and understanding the role of atoms in reactions in many areas of the physical sciences. It also has important implications for new medicines and new energy sources.

So far, observing reacting atoms has been difficult. When studying the reactions at the catalyst surface, scientists usually have to look into idealised systems under vacuum conditions rather than examining the reality of an industrial catalytic process in a gas environment.

However, in a world first, the Directors of the York JEOL Nanocentre, Professor Ed Boyes and Professor Pratibha Gai, have developed atomic resolution in-situ aberration corrected environmental scanning transmission electron microscopy technology (in-situ AC-ESTEM) for catalyst reaction studies in realistic reaction conditions.

With the new technology it is now possible to observe and analyse single atoms, small clusters and nanoparticles in dynamic in-situ experiments with controlled gas reaction environments at initial operating temperatures of up to 500◦C under transient reaction conditions.

The seminal research carried out entirely at the York JEOL Nanocentre - a major long-term collaboration between the University's Departments of Chemistry, Physics and Electronics, the European Union, Yorkshire Forward and leading electron optics manufacturer JEOL - is reported in Annalen der Physik (Berlin).

Our research opens up exciting new opportunities for observing and studying reacting atoms

Professor Pratibha Gai

Professor Gai, Co-Director of the York JEOL Nanocentre and Professor of Electron Microscopy with Chairs in York’s Departments of Chemistry and Physics, said: “Our research opens up exciting new opportunities for observing and studying reacting atoms, the fundamental basic building blocks of matter, in many reactions and is especially important for the development of new medicines and new energy sources.”

The team of York scientists, which includes Michael Ward and Dr Leonardi Lari, has successfully imaged individual platinum atoms on carbon supports in a reacting catalyst under controlled atmosphere and temperature conditions.

Professor Boyes, Co-Director of York JEOL Nanocentre, with Chairs in York’s Departments of Physics and Electronics, said: “Platinum on carbon supports is important in many applications in the chemical industry including in energy sources such as fuel cells and is an informative model system more generally.”

The work was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Notes to editors:

  • The article “ESTEM imaging of single atoms under controlled temperature and gas environment conditions in catalyst reaction studies” appears in the June edition of Annalen der Physik (Berlin) and is featured on the front cover. Ann. Phys. (Berlin) 525(6), 423-429 (2013); DOI: 10.1002/andp.201300068. Link to article: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/andp.201300068/abstract
  • Authors: Edward D. Boyes, Michael R. Ward, Leonardo Lari and Pratibha L. Gai, University of York.
  • The work is funded by the two Directors’ EPSRC (UK) critical mass research grant EP/J018058/1 and a studentship to Michael Ward. The work has been carried out with technical assistance from Ian Wright at the Nanocentre.
  • The York JEOL Nanocentre represents a major long term collaboration between the University of York, Yorkshire Forward through the European Union and JEOL who are world leaders in electron optics. A world-class research and teaching facility, the Nanocentre draws on the combined resources of the Physics, Electronics and Chemistry departments, with the Departments of Environmental Sciences, Biology, Heritage Management and FERA (Food and Environmental Research Agency) also participating. As well as carrying out high quality nanoscience and materials research and teaching, the York JEOL Nanocentre provides rich opportunities for collaboration with UK industry and external partners.
  • More information at www.york.ac.uk/nanocentre/
  • The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK. www.epsrc.ac.uk
  • Further information on the University of York’s Department of Physics at www.york.ac.uk/physics/
  • Further information on the University of York’s Department of Chemistry at www.york.ac.uk/chemistry
  • Further information on the University of York’s Department of Electronics at www.york.ac.uk/electronics

 

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