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Smaller is better in the viscous zone
Date:10/21/2010

DURHAM, N.C. -- Being the right size and existing in the limbo between a solid and a liquid state appear to be the secrets to improving the efficiency of chemical catalysts that can create better nanoparticles or more efficient energy sources.

When matter is in this transitional state, a catalyst can achieve its utmost potential with the right combination of catalyst particle size and temperature, according to a pair of Duke University researchers. A catalyst is an agent or chemical that facilitates a chemical reaction. It is estimated that more than 90 percent of chemical processes used by industry involve catalysts at some point.

This finding could have broad implications in almost every catalyst-based reaction, according to an engineer and a chemist at Duke who reported their findings on line in the American Chemical Society's journal ACS-NANO. The team found that the surface-to-volume ratio of the catalyst particle its size -- is more important than generally appreciated.

"We found that the smaller size of a catalyst will lead to a faster reaction than if the bulk, or larger, version of the same catalyst is used," said Stefano Curtarolo, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Sciences.

"This is in addition to the usual excess of surface in the nanoparticles," said Curtarolo, who came up with the theoretical basis of the findings three years ago and saw them confirmed by a series of intricate experiments conducted by Jie Liu, Duke professor of chemistry.

"This opens up a whole new area of study, since the thermo-kinetic state of the catalyst has not before been considered an important factor," Curtarolo said. "It is on the face of it paradoxical. It's like saying if a car uses less gas (a smaller particle), it will go faster and further."

Their series of experiments were conducted using carbon nanotubes, and the scientists believe that same principles t
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Contact: Richard Merritt
richard.merritt@duke.edu
919-660-8414
Duke University
Source:Eurekalert  

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