Activation of Cu(111) surface by decomposition into nanoclusters driven by CO adsorption
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1126/science.aad8868
The (111) surface of copper (Cu), its most compact and lowest energy surface, became unstable when exposed to carbon monoxide (CO) gas. Scanning tunneling microscopy revealed that at room temperature in the pressure range 0.1 to 100 Torr, the surface decomposed into clusters decorated by CO molecules attached to edge atoms. Between 0.2 and a few Torr CO, the clusters became mobile in the scale of minutes. Density functional theory showed that the energy gain from CO binding to low-coordinated Cu atoms and the weakening of binding of Cu to neighboring atoms help drive this process. Particularly for softer metals, the optimal balance of these two effects occurs near reaction conditions. Cluster formation activated the surface for water dissociation, an important step in the water-gas shift reaction.