June 29, 2015

X-Rays and Electrons Join Forces To Map Catalytic Reactions in Real-Time

New technique combines electron microscopy and synchrotron x-rays at Brookhaven Lab to track chemical reactions under real operating conditions

(June 29, 2015)  A new technique pioneered at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory reveals atomic-scale changes during catalytic reactions in real time and under real operating conditions.

A team of scientists used a newly developed reaction chamber to combine x-ray absorption spectroscopy and electron microscopy for an unprecedented portrait of a common chemical reaction. The results demonstrate a powerful operando technique—from the Latin for "in working condition"—that may revolutionize research on catalysts, batteries, fuel cells, and other major energy technologies.

"We tracked the dynamic transformations of a working catalyst, including single atoms and larger structures, during an active reaction at room temperature," said study coauthor and Brookhaven Lab scientist Eric Stach. "This gives us unparalleled insight into nanoparticle structure and would be impossible to achieve without combining two complementary operando techniques."

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