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Carbon monoxide-induced adatom sintering in a Pd–Fe3O4 model catalyst


The coarsening of catalytically active metal clusters is often accelerated by the presence of gases, but the role played by gas molecules is difficult to ascertain and varies from system to system1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. We use scanning tunnelling microscopy to follow the CO-induced coalescence of Pd adatoms supported on the Fe3O4(001) surface at room temperature, and find Pd-carbonyl species to be responsible for mobility in this system. Once these reach a critical density, clusters nucleate; subsequent coarsening occurs through cluster diffusion and coalescence. Whereas CO induces the mobility in the Pd/Fe3O4 system, surface hydroxyls have the opposite effect. Pd atoms transported to surface OH groups are no longer susceptible to carbonyl formation and remain isolated. Following the evolution from well-dispersed metal adatoms into clusters, atom-by-atom, allows identification of the key processes that underlie gas-induced mass transport.

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Figure 1: The Fe3O4(001) surface.
Figure 2: CO-induced mobility of one Pd adatom.
Figure 3: Formation of a stable Pd adatom at a surface hydroxyl.
Figure 4: The CO-induced formation of a large Pd cluster.

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This material is based on work supported as part of the Center for Atomic-Level Catalyst Design, an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences under Award Number #DE-SC0001058. The authors acknowledge Z. Mao and T. J. Liu (Tulane University) for the synthetic sample used in this work. G.S.P. acknowledges support from the Austrian Science Fund project number P24925-N20. R.K. and J.P. acknowledge stipends from the TU Vienna doctoral college CATMAT.

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G.S.P. designed the experiments, analysed data and wrote the paper; Z.N., G.A. and J.P. performed the experiments and analysed data; R.K. and P.B. performed and analysed the theoretical calculations; M.S. and U.D. designed the experiments and wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Gareth S. Parkinson or Ulrike Diebold.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Parkinson, G., Novotny, Z., Argentero, G. et al. Carbon monoxide-induced adatom sintering in a Pd–Fe3O4 model catalyst. Nature Mater 12, 724–728 (2013).

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