30 August 2012

Spectroscopic Tracking of Photocatalysis

Detailed molecular-scale measurements of a chemical reaction accelerated by sunlight have been carried out for the first time ever. Chemists at Utrecht University and the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena (Germany) have set up a special microscope to simultaneously take part in and observe the catalysed chemical reaction. The results were published on August 19, 2012, in the journal "Nature Nanotechnology." Professor Bert Weckhuysen from Utrecht University said of this research: "Now we can focus on making solar fuels more profitable."

Some chemical reactions can be accelerated by sunlight and by contact with catalysts. These photocatalytic reactions can now be monitored on a molecular level thanks to a new measuring technique developed by Professor Bert Weckhuysen, Evelien van Schrojenstein Lantman, a Ph.D. student, and Dr. Arjan Mank, all chemists from Utrecht University, as well as Professor Volker Deckert, who works at the Institute of Photonic Technology (IPHT) in Jena and Dr. Tanja Deckert-Gaudig, both of whom are scientists associated with the University of Jena.

Solar Fuel

The investigators have stated that research may offer new opportunities for the improvement of so-called solar fuels. This sustainable form of fuel stores solar energy in molecules, comparable to photosynthesis in plants. "Solar fuels are not currently profitable because we do not know how to produce the fuel efficiently," said Weckhuysen." Our new measuring technique makes it possible to see exactly what happens during the production of solar fuels, which will enable us to come up with improvements in the future."

Silver Needle

In this study, researchers made clever use of a sharp needle with a "tip-enhanced Raman microscope," which makes recordings just above the reaction surface. Deckert said: "The key factor is the silver particle at the tip apex that acts simultaneously as a detection system and a catalyst at nanometer dimensions. This allows the investigation of the reaction at an unprecedented spatial resolution and sensitivity. Investigation of other catalytic systems should be straightforward."

Publication: Catalytic processes monitored at the nanoscale with tip-enhanced Raman spectroscopy, Evelien M. van Schrojenstein Lantman, Tanja Deckert-Gaudig, Arjan J.G. Mank, Volker Deckert, Bert M. Weckhuysen, Nature Nanotechnology, 2012, DOI: 10.1038/NNANO.2012.131

This research is funded by NanoNextNL, the Netherlands Research School Combination–Catalysis (NRSC-C) and NWO.

Round Robin Experiment

Raman spectroscopy has already proved its effectiveness in many cases for medical diagnostics such as for cancer, cardiovascular diseases and infections. However, there are no standards in the different working groups, e.g. for sample preparation, implementation of the Raman experiments, spectra pre-treatment, data evaluation, etc.In a round robin experiment, the required groundwork will take place in order to define standardised Raman measurement methods, which will be fundamental for establishing Raman spectroscopy for clinical diagnostic procedures.

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