York microscopy technology could aid drug and energy research

Electron microscopy technology developed at the York JEOL Nanocentre at the York University is allowing researchers to observe and analyse single atoms, small clusters and nanoparticles in dynamic in-situ experiments for the first time.

The work being carried out at York is opening up new opportunities for observing and understanding the role of atoms in reactions in many areas of the physical sciences. It is also said to have implications for new medicines and new energy sources.

Observing reacting atoms has been problematic because – when studying reactions at the catalyst surface – scientists usually have to look into idealised systems under vacuum conditions rather than examining the reality of an industrial catalytic process in a gas environment.

However, in what is claimed to be a world first, the directors of the York JEOL Nanocentre, Prof Ed Boyes and Prof Pratibha Gai, have developed atomic resolution in-situ aberration corrected environmental scanning transmission electron microscopy technology (in-situ AC-ESTEM) for catalyst reaction studies in realistic reaction conditions.

With the new technology it is now possible to make observations in dynamic in-situ experiments with controlled gas reaction environments at initial operating temperatures of up to 500oC under transient reaction conditions.

The research carried out entirely at the York JEOL Nanocentre – a long-term collaboration between the University’s Departments of Chemistry, Physics and Electronics, the European Union, Yorkshire Forward and electron optics manufacturer JEOL – is reported in Annalen der Physik(Berlin).

In a statement, Prof Gai, co-director of the York JEOL Nanocentre said, ‘Our research opens up exciting new opportunities for observing and studying reacting atoms, the fundamental basic building blocks of matter, in many reactions and is especially important for the development of new medicines and new energy sources.’

The team of York scientists, which includes Michael Ward and Dr Leonardi Lari, has successfully imaged individual platinum atoms on carbon supports in a reacting catalyst under controlled atmosphere and temperature conditions.

Prof Boyes, co-director of York JEOL Nanocentre, said, ‘Platinum on carbon supports is important in many applications in the chemical industry including in energy sources such as fuel cells and is an informative model system more generally.’