Monday, May 21, 2012
Catalysis seems like magic.
In our most recent paper, we found that we could dope a particularly interesting material, vanadium dioxide, with atomic hydrogen, via "catalytic spillover". By getting hydrogen in there in interstitial sites, we could dramatically alter the electrical properties of the material, allowing us to stabilize its unusual metallic state down to low temperatures. The funkiest part of this to me is the catalysis part. The metal electrodes that we use for electronic measurements have enough catalytic activity that they can split hydrogen molecules into atomic hydrogen at an appreciable rate even under very modest conditions (e.g., not much warmer than the boiling point of water). This paper (sorry it is subscription only) shows an elegant experimental demonstration of this, where gold is exposed to H2 and D2 gas and HD molecules are then detected. I would love to understand the physics at work here better. Any recommendations for a physics-based discussion would be appreciated - I know there is enormous empirical and phenomenological knowledge about this stuff, but something closer to an underlying physics description would be excellent.
Posted by Douglas Natelson at 4:55 PM