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Water world: The sequel

, ice-melting, electrochemistry, dissolution, and solvation. Such interactions are equally important to many biological processes as well. Despite the broad concern, the interactions of individual water molecules with surfaces have remained somewhat of a scientific enigma.

"Numerous fundamental questions regarding the adsorption of water on surfaces and its evolution from isolated molecules to clusters, complete layers, and beyond, remain unanswered," says Salmeron. "Structural probes that analyze cluster formation do not address the important issue of the movement of water on surfaces."

An STM is the ideal instrument for studying the diffusion of individual molecules or atoms along the surface of a material, Salmeron says. Working off a probe that tapers to a single atom at its point, the STM sweeps over a sample area barely a nanometer above the surface. An electrical current is generated by electrons that "tunnel" through the gap between the atoms on the sample surface and the STM tip. This current is extremely sensitive to changes in the gap distance and produces, through a feedback mechanism, displacements in the STM tip that can recorded and translated into topographic images of individual surface atoms. The Berkeley Lab STM is one of the few such instruments in the world that can be operated at the extremely low temperatures needed to slow the process of molecular diffusion down enough for it to be imaged.

"At 40 Kelvins, the diffusion of water on palladium proceeds slowly enough for us to make movies by acquiring sequences of images at 20 second intervals," says Salmeron. "By measuring jump distances and directions in our movie images, diffusion was observed to proceed by random hopping over to the nearest neighbor sites of the palladium substrate."

Diffusion was studied using an atom-tracking technique as well as the movie-making technique. The atom-tracking experim
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Contact: Lynn Yarris
lcyarris@lbl.gov
510-496-5375
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
16-Sep-2002


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