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In February 2009 we reported that Peng Chen at Cornell University in the US had devised a technique – using single molecule spectroscopy – for ‘watching’ single nanoparticles react with single reactants. This was the first time catalysis had been studied at the single molecule level.
Now, they have extended their study to look at the electrocatalysis of single walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) at the single molecule level. Chen found that electrocatalytic reactions occur at discrete, specific sites – rather than along the whole of the nanotube walls. These nanosized hotspots had longed been suspected, but this is the first time they have been ‘seen’.
As part of Chen’s ongoing campaign to help people design the perfect nanocatalyst, by improving our fundamental knowledge of how they work, he says that the current findings will help perfect the use of SWCNT electrocatalysts for electron-to-fuel conversion.