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A Cluster of Twenty Atoms of Gold is Visualized for the First Time by Physicists

Published: Friday, July 27, 2012
Last Updated: Friday, July 27, 2012
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Birmingham physicists reveal the atomic arrangement by imaging the cluster with an electron microscope.

Scientists at the University of Birmingham have developed a method to visualize gold on the nanoscale by using a special probe beam to image 20 atoms of gold bound together to make a cluster. The research is published in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s journal Nanoscale.

Physicists have theorized for many years how atoms of gold and other elements would be arranged and ten years ago the structure of a 20-atom tetrahedral pyramid was proposed by scientists in the US.

Birmingham physicists can now reveal this atomic arrangement for the first time by imaging the cluster with an electron microscope.

Gold is a noble metal which is unreactive and thus resistant to contamination in our every day experience, but at the smallest, nano scale it becomes highly active chemically and can be used as a catalyst for controlling chemical reactions.

Clusters of metal atoms are used in catalysis in various industries including oil refining, the food industry, fine chemicals, perfumery and pharmaceuticals as well as in fuel cells for clean power systems for cars.

Richard Palmer, the University of Birmingham’s Professor of Experimental Physics, Head of the Nanoscale Physics Research Laboratory, and lead investigator, said: ‘We are working to drive up the rate of production of these very precisely defined nano-objects to supply to companies for applications such as catalysis. Selective processes generate less waste and avoid harmful biproducts - this is green chemistry using gold.’

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