BECAUSE catalysis by metals is a surface phenomenon, many technological catalysts contain small (typically nanometre-sized) supported metal particles with a large fraction of the atoms exposed1. Many reactions, such as hydrocarbon hydrogenations, are structure-insensitive, proceeding at approximately the same rate on metal particles of various sizes provided that they are larger than about 1 nm and show bulk-like metallic behaviour1. But it is not known whether the catalytic properties of metal particles become size-dependent as the particles become so small that they are no longer metallic in character. Here we investigate the catalytic behaviour of precisely defined clusters of just four and six iridium atoms on solid supports. We find that the Ir4 and Ir6 clusters differ in catalytic activity both from each other and from metallic Ir particles. This raises the possibility of tailoring the catalytic behaviour of metal clusters by controlling the cluster size.
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Xu, Z., Xiao, FS., Purnell, S. et al. Size-dependent catalytic activity of supported metal clusters. Nature 372, 346–348 (1994). https://doi.org/10.1038/372346a0
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