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Water's reaction with metal oxides opens doors for researchers
Date:8/8/2014

researchers generated data on the reactions using scanning tunneling microscopy (STM). The Wisconsin researchers then subjected the STM images to quantum mechanical analysis that decoded the resulting chemical structures, defining which atom is which. "If you don't have the component of the work that we provided, there is no way that you can tell from STM alone what the atomic-scale structure of the water is when absorbed on various surfaces" Mavrikakis says.

The project yielded two dramatically different pictures of water-metal oxide reactions.

"On a smooth surface, you form amorphous networks of water molecules, whereas on a hydroxylated surface, there are much more structured, well-ordered domains of water molecules," Mavrikakis says.

In the latter case, the researchers realized that hydroxyl behaves as a sort of anchor, setting the template for a tidy hexameric ring of water molecules attracted to the metal's surface.

Mavrikakis' next step is to examine how these differing structures react with other molecules, and to use the research to improve catalysis. He sees many possibilities outside his own field.

"Maybe others might be inspired and look at the geochemistry or atmospheric chemistry implications, such as how these water cluster structures on atmospheric dust nanoparticles could affect cloud formation, rain and acid rain," Mavrikakis says.

Other researchers might also look at whether other molecules exhibit similar behavior when they come into contact with metal oxides, he adds.

"It opens the doors to using hydrogen bonds to make surfaces hydrophilic, or attracted to water, and to (template) these surfaces for the selective absorption of other molecules possessing fundamental similarities to water," Mavrikakis says. "Because catalysis is at the heart of engineering chemical reactions, this is also very fundamental for atomic-scale chemical reaction engineering."

While the research
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Contact: Manos Mavrikakis
manos@engr.wisc.edu
608-215-3910
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Source:Eurekalert

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