Separating the Catalysts from the Chaff

Sep 09, 2010
Grant Johnson, Julia Laskin, and Michael Lysonski (not pictured) created an instrument that allows scientists to remove the desired catalyst from a complex sample.

When studying how specific catalysts drive reactions, scientists are often frustrated by the actions of unrelated molecules in the samples. Now, thanks to a device created by a team at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, extraneous molecules are separated out of the samples and the desired catalyst is gently placed onto a surface. The team designed and constructed this soft-landing instrument after hearing about the challenges of separating catalysts from other impurities in heterogeneous samples.

"We can—for the first time—isolate single molecules and look at their when attached to a surface," said Dr. Julia Laskin, a physical chemist who led the effort with PNNL's Grant Johnson and Michael Lysonski, a student working at the Laboratory through the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship program.

Whether refining petroleum or building from carbon dioxide and sunlight, chemical manufacturing relies on catalysts. Making these reactions use less energy or produce more fuel means designing more efficient, affordable catalysts. To do this, scientists need to study the reactions without interference from other contaminants. With the soft-landing device, now available in EMSL, researchers can obtain pure samples and detailed information about a single catalytic species.

"This new device gives EMSL users a unique tool for studying ," said Dr. Grant Johnson, a physical chemist at PNNL and one of the first Linus Pauling Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellows. "It's quick, efficient, and provides pure samples in vacuum, away from highly reactive oxygen and water."

The soft landing device prepares catalytic surfaces by separating out the desired molecule and gently depositing it onto a substrate. Then, the samples are transferred into a commercial time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometer (TOF-SIMS). The mass spectrometer allows scientists to determine the purity of the sample and to study its interactions with reactant gases.

"We've done soft landing of peptides, but this research is the first step for preparing catalysts with soft- and reactive landing and testing their reactivity," said Laskin.

How it really works: First, the sample is put into the gas phase using electrospray ionization. Then, the ions are focused through an ion funnel. The ion beam then passes through powerful oscillating electric fields that filter out the desired charged molecules.

Then, the pure beam of charged molecules is directed at the surface. The surface is then transferred into the TOF-SIMS. The TOF-SIMS enables detailed characterization of catalytic samples, providing data on compounds that were previously undetectable.

What's next? Laskin and Johnson are expanding the instrument's capabilities to give highly detailed, atomic-scale information about catalytic surfaces and interactions and to provide quantitative kinetic results. Their data will answer fundamental questions about catalysts and reactions that create fuels, chemicals, and countless other products.

Explore further: Researchers identify less-invasive method for kidney diagnostics

More information: Johnson GE, M Lysonski, and J Laskin. 2010. "In Situ Reactivity and TOF SIMS Analysis of Surfaces Prepared by Soft and Reactive Landing of Mass Selected Ions." Analytical Chemistry 82(13):5718-5727. DOI:10.1021/ac100734g

Related Stories

Chemists make beds with soft landings

Aug 18, 2008

Bedsprings aren't often found in biology. Now, chemists have succeeded in making a layer of tiny protein coils attached to a surface, much like miniature bedsprings in a frame. This thin film made of stable ...

New Class of Catalyst Sports Shapely Selectivity

Mar 10, 2010

A new class of catalytic material has been studied by scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) display a unique three-dimensional structure that is highly selective ...

Working toward new energy with electrochemistry

Aug 20, 2007

In an effort to develop alternative energy sources such as fuel cells and solar fuel from “artificial” photosynthesis, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory are taking a detailed ...

Watching Catalytic Reactions from Within

Jan 29, 2009

( -- Researchers from Utrecht University, in The Netherlands, have demonstrated a new way to get a real-time, microscopic view of the inner workings of catalytic reactions.

Recommended for you

Research center develops single-cell analyzer

May 29, 2015

Researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology have developed a probe capable of detecting signs of disease or environmental change inside a single human cell.

Devices designed to identify pathogens in food

May 27, 2015

Researchers at the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN) in Mexico have developed a technology capable of identifying pathogens in food and beverages. This technique could work in the restaurant industry as ...

Biosensor may improve clinical diagnosis of influenza A

May 27, 2015

Sensors based on special sound waves known as surface acoustic waves (SAWs) are capable of detecting tiny amounts of antigens of Influenza A viruses. Developed by A*STAR researchers, the biosensors have the ...

New chip makes testing for antibiotic-resistant bacteria faster, easier

May 26, 2015

We live in fear of 'superbugs': infectious bacteria that don't respond to treatment by antibiotics, and can turn a routine hospital stay into a nightmare. A 2015 Health Canada report estimates that superbugs have already cost Canadians $1 billion, and are a "serious and growing issue." Each year two million people in the U.S. contract antibiotic-re ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.