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Observation of the adsorption and desorption of vibrationally excited molecules on a metal surface

Nature Chemistryvolume 10pages592598 (2018) | Download Citation


The most common mechanism of catalytic surface chemistry is that of Langmuir and Hinshelwood (LH). In the LH mechanism, reactants adsorb, become thermalized with the surface, and subsequently react. The measured vibrational (relaxation) lifetimes of molecules adsorbed at metal surfaces are in the range of a few picoseconds. As a consequence, vibrational promotion of LH chemistry is rarely observed, with the exception of LH reactions occurring via a molecular physisorbed intermediate. Here, we directly detect adsorption and subsequent desorption of vibrationally excited CO molecules from a Au(111) surface. Our results show that CO (v = 1) survives on a Au(111) surface for ~1 × 10−10 s. Such long vibrational lifetimes for adsorbates on metal surfaces are unexpected and pose an interesting challenge to the current understanding of vibrational energy dissipation on metal surfaces. They also suggest that vibrational promotion of surface chemistry might be more common than is generally believed.

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The authors thank A. Kandratsenka for discussions on CO vibrational lifetime estimation and T. Schäfer for his inputs regarding the CO/Au(111) TPD measurements. The authors acknowledge support from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft CRC1073 under project A04 and from the Ministerium für Wissenschaft und Kultur Niedersachsen and the Volkswagenstiftung under grant no. INST 186/901-1. A.M.W. and D.J.A. acknowledge support from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. D.J.A. acknowledges support from The International Center for Advanced Studies of Energy Conversion, Georg-August University of Göttingen. J.G. acknowledges support from the Max Planck – EPFL Center for Molecular Nanoscience and Technology. I.R. and A.M.W. acknowledge support from the Niedersächsisch-Israelische Gemeinschaftsvorhaben under project no. 574 7 022.

Author information

Author notes

    • Pranav R. Shirhatti

    Present address: Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Serilingampally Mandal, Ranga Reddy District, Hyderabad, India


  1. Institute for Physical Chemistry, Georg-August University of Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany

    • Pranav R. Shirhatti
    • , Kai Golibrzuch
    • , Jan Geweke
    • , Jan Altschäffel
    • , Daniel J. Auerbach
    • , Christof Bartels
    •  & Alec M. Wodtke
  2. Department of Dynamics at Surfaces, Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen, Germany

    • Pranav R. Shirhatti
    • , Kai Golibrzuch
    • , Jan Altschäffel
    • , Sumit Kumar
    • , Daniel J. Auerbach
    •  & Alec M. Wodtke
  3. Department of Natural Sciences, The Open University of Israel, Raanana, Israel

    • Igor Rahinov
  4. Photonic sensor Technology, Laser-Laboratorium Göttingen e.V, Göttingen, Germany

    • Kai Golibrzuch
  5. École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland

    • Jörn Werdecker
    •  & Jan Geweke
  6. Physikalisches Institut, Universität Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany

    • Christof Bartels
  7. International Center for Advanced Studies of Energy Conversion, Georg-August University of Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany

    • Alec M. Wodtke


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A.M.W. conceived the study. P.R.S., I.R., K.G., J.W., J.G. and C.B. were involved in designing and conducting the scattering experiments. P.R.S. conducted the final data analysis. J.A. performed the computational study. S.K. performed the IR absorption measurements. A.M.W., D.J.A. and C.B. provided conceptual advice both regarding data analysis and interpretation of the results. A.M.W., P.R.S. and I.R. wrote the main paper. P.R.S. wrote the Supplementary Information with input from J.A. and S.K. All authors discussed the results and their interpretation, and provided inputs for preparing the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alec M. Wodtke.

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  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Methods, Data and analysis, Supplementary Figs. 1–11

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