Nanometre-resolved observation of electrochemical microenvironment formation at the nanoparticle–ligand interface

Yu Shan, Xiao Zhao, Maria Fonseca Guzman, Asmita Jana, Shouping Chen, Sunmoon Yu, Ka Chon Ng, Inwhan Roh, Hao Chen, Virginia Altoe, Stephanie N. Gilbert Corder, Hans A. Bechtel, Jin Qian, Miquel B. Salmeron and Peidong Yang

Nature Catalysis 7, 422 (2024)
The dynamic response of surface ligands on nanoparticles (NPs) to external stimuli critically determines the functionality of NP–ligand systems. For example, in electrocatalysis the collective dissociation of ligands on NP surfaces can lead to the creation of an NP/ordered-ligand interlayer, a microenvironment that is highly active and selective for CO2-to-CO conversion. However, the lack of in situ characterization techniques with high spatial resolution hampers a comprehensive molecular-level understanding of the mechanism of interlayer formation. Here we utilize in situ infrared nanospectroscopy and surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy, unveiling an electrochemical bias-induced consecutive bond cleavage mechanism of surface ligands leading to formation of the NP/ordered-ligand interlayer. This real-time molecular insight could influence the design of confined localized fields in multiple catalytic systems. Moreover, the demonstrated capability of capturing nanometre-resolved, dynamic molecular-scale events holds promise for the advancement of using controlled local molecular behaviour to achieve desired functionalities across multiple research domains in nanoscience.