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
|Contact: Manos Mavrikakis|
University of Wisconsin-Madison