Arranging gold nanoparticles precisely in three dimensions

Metal nanoparticles have a wide variety of applications many of which stem from the fact that extremely small particles a few nanometres to  10’s of nanometres in diameter can have very different properties from those of the same material at a larger scale (a nanometre is just a billionth of a metre). Such particles are used as catalysts, coloring agents and can even  make antibacterial coatings. Some effects are due to the pattern of the particles and the spacing between them, but these are very difficult to control and particles are typically used in solution where they randomly move around like motes of dust in the air.   

In the current work, scientists based at the Bionanoscience and Biochemistry Laboratory at the Malopolska Centre of Biotechnology (MCB), Jagiellonian University showed that an artificial protein structure, a hollow sphere called a TRAP-cage, was able to act as a scaffold and provide regular-spaced points of attachment for small gold nanoparticles. “TRAP-cage is itself tiny, but at around 15 nm in diameter is still big enough to attach multiple  gold nanoparticles” explained Jonathan Heddle the head of the lab, “The protein cage is made of 12 rings, so overall it looks a little like a 12-sided dice – a dodecahedron.”  The researchers showed that there are spaces equivalent to the corners of the dodecahedron that offer just the right environment to snugly fit the gold nanoparticles inside. As a result, instead of randomly floating around, the particles appear to be constrained into a fixed three-dimensional pattern. It is hoped that the ability to arrange metal nanoparticles in this way may be developed further to produce new materials with useful properties.

Read more on the SOLARIS website

Image: The structure of the protein cage (purple) with three of the embedded gold nanoparticles highlighted (yellow) 

Credit: Jonathan Heddle

Nonprecious transition metal nitrides as efficient oxygen reduction electrocatalysts for alkaline fuel cells

CHEXS users have discovered a class of nonprecious metal derivatives that can catalyze fuel cell reactions about as well as platinum, at a fraction of the cost. A critical part of the fuel cell is the oxygen reduction reaction, an infamously sluggish process that is traditionally sped up by platinum and other precious metals. Now, in a new paper appearing in the journal Science Advances, a team lead by Héctor Abruña (the Émile M. Chamot Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Cornell University), have reported a new cobalt nitride catalyst material with near identical efficiency to platinum while costing 475 times less (as of February 2022). Carbon-supported cobalt nitride (Co3N/C) achieved a record-high peak power density among reported nitride cathode catalysts of 700 mW cm−2 in alkaline membrane electrode assemblies. The material was demonstrated to remain stable below 1.0V potentials inside working fuel cells, using operando x-ray spectroscopy at the PIPOXS beamline. Operando XANES and EXAFS (A,B) show dramatic changes in valence and bond lengths for potentials above 1V, while below 1V the material remains stable (C,D).

Read more on the CHESS website

New 12 T magnet strengthens energy and magnetism research

Electron paramagnetic resonance (THz-EPR) at BESSY II provides important information on the electronic structure of novel magnetic materials and catalysts. In mid-January 2022, the researchers brought a new, superconducting 12-T magnet into operation at this end station, which promises new scientific insights.

At the THz-EPR end station, unique experimental conditions are provided through a combination of coherent THz-light from BESSY II and high magnetic fields. These capabilities have now been extended by a new superconducting 12 T magnet, acquired through funding from the BMBF network project “ERP-on-a-Chip” and HZB.

Read more on the HZB website

Image: Exhausted but happy: f.l.t.r. – K. Holldack (HZB), A. Schnegg (MPI CEC Mülheim, HZB), T. Lohmiller (HZB, HUB), D. Ponwitz (HZB) after the successful commissioning of the new 12T magnet (green).