05 January 2009 University of York

Nanocentre Researchers Peer into the Atomic Future

Researchers in the York JEOL Nanocentre at the University of York have developed a novel technique to ‘see' how atoms work.

Using the £5.5 million centre's flagship aberration-corrected microscope -- one of the world's most powerful -- the centre's co-Directors Professor Pratibha Gai, JEOL and Yorkshire Forward Professor of Electron Microscopy and Nanotechnology, and Professor Edward Boyes, have made a major step forward in nanomaterials research.

Titanium atoms (dark blue) can attach above the centres of single-walled carbon nanotubes (light blue)

This computer model shows how titanium atoms (dark blue) can attach above the centres of single-walled carbon nanotubes (light blue). Quantum calculations and modeling by a NIST researcher and his colleague reveal that each titanium atom can bond with four hydrogen molecules (red), a finding that could lead to efficient fuel cells for future automobiles.
Image Credit: T. Yildirim/NIST

The microscope has enabled the human eye to see how atoms work in dynamic materials reactions at the Ångstrom scale (1 Ångstrom = one tenth of a nanometre; itself one billionth of a metre). The method is being used to develop high technology fuel cells and catalytic systems for green renewable energy sources, by providing a fundamental understanding of surface structure modifications and their role in property-altering surface reactions.

Modifications to the instrument have formed the technical foundation for major new scientific initiatives in nanomaterials research for use in everything from nanoelectronics, catalysis, medical science and engineering.

In real time, the researchers studied changes in crystallographic phases at the atomic level in ‘living' catalytic reactions for sustainable energy and for climate control, rather than by the conventional methods of making before and after studies of extracted static (‘dead') samples.

Professor Gai, of the University's Departments of Chemistry and Physics, and Professor Boyes, of the Departments of Physics and Electronics, examined the role of coarsening in bimetallic platinum and palladium nanoparticles on carbon supports in fuel cell devices. Working at the Ångstrom scale, they found striking and previously unknown changes in the support nanostructures influencing the reactions.

Professor Gai and Professor Boyes presented the work, which is one of the world's first in-situ studies at the Angstrom scale, at the quadrennial European Microscopy Society Congress in Aachen , Germany in September 2008. It has been published in the Congress proceedings and in a leading journal, Microscopy Research and Technique (Wiley-Blackwell) and Professor Gai, was invited to present the world leading research at the Royal Society in November 2008.

The research has resulted in several awards, including UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI) award to collaborate with the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore . The Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) is providing sponsorship and staff support, including a year long visit by Dr Kenta Yoshida from Nagoya University .

The work is stimulating initiatives in collaboration with the regional development agency, Yorkshire Forward, which co-sponsors the Nanocentre. Collaboration with the surface chemistry group in the Department of Chemistry is developing nanoscale catalysts for renewable biofuel energy sources from vegetable oils; a topic of keen interest to British and global industry.

Source: www.york.ac.uk/admin/presspr /...

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