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Single-atom tractor beams power chemical catalysis

One-atom tractor beams drive chemical catalysis

One-atom tractor beams provide chemical catalysis. Credit: Research Team, Cavendish Laboratory, Department of Physics, University of Cambridge

By trapping light in tiny gaps just a few atoms wide, a team at the NanoPhotonics Center at the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge increased the optical forces a thousandfold, strong enough to force atoms into positions that drive chemical reactions more efficiently.

“We’ve found a new way to amplify the forces of light, enough to move metal atoms now, and that’s key to lowering the energy barrier to make catalysis work more easily,” explains co-lead researcher Shu Hu.

Weak tractor beams are being used to create optical tweezers that can investigate biological processes with beams of tightly focused light that capture transparent micro-objects made of glass or polymer. But using light to pluck individual atoms from solids requires much stronger forces. Now, a team at the NanoPhotonics Center at the Cavendish Laboratory has demonstrated a way to build tiny slits that amplify the optical powers of visible light. They use these to pull single gold atoms out of a crystal, get them close to a molecular bond, and watch the effects directly on their flopping and vibration. Published in scientific progress they show new ways to make light work powerfully, and suggest new approaches for driving chemical transformations.

Looking at one band at a time in their experiments avoids averaging a multitude of different effects. “Single metal atoms are the anvil where catalysis forges new chemical bonds,” Prof Jeremy Baumberg promises, “and we can begin to watch and control this process.” Catalysis is essential for all man-made chemicals and polymers.

“It’s like watching the beautiful dance of an atom and a molecule in real time,” Hu notes.


The smallest magnifying glass in the world makes it possible to see chemical bonds between atoms


More information:
Qianqi Lin et al, Optical suppression of energy barriers in binding of one molecule to metal, scientific progress (2022). DOI: 10.1126/sciaadv.abp9285

Provided by the University of Cambridge


Quote: One-Atom Power Traction Chemical Catalysis (2022, June 27) retrieved June 27, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-06-single-atom-tractor-power-chemical-catalysis.html

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