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Scientists at The University of Nottingham have overcome one of the significant research challenges facing electrochemists. For the first time they have found a way of probing right into the heart of an electrochemical reaction.
Their breakthrough will help scientists understand how catalysts work. If this is understood even better catalysts could be created.
Chemists and engineers, under the direction of Dr Pete Licence in the School of Chemistry, overcame significant challenges to be able to study the reaction at the point where the solution touches the surface of the metal electrode bringing in the electricity. They have done this by using spectroscopy under ultra high vacuum.
The research has been hailed as a major breakthrough by electrochemists and an important step forward in the development of new catalysts and sensors. The results will be published in the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) journal Chemical Communications and the article has also been featured in Highlights in Chemical Science which showcases news from across RSC publishing.
Because catalysts — materials used to create a chemical reaction — are dissolved in a solution it is often very hard to understand why they work so well. Normally solutions evaporate almost instantaneously under high vacuum. The team overcame this obstacle by using one of the many room temperature ionic liquids (RTILs) — so-called ‘designer solvents' which do not evaporate under such conditions.
Dr Licence said: "It wasn't easy and we had phenomenal problems. We could do the electrochemistry in the vacuum and we could measure the spectra of ionic liquids — but to do both at the same time has been a real uphill struggle — but now we have cracked it."
With funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Leverhulme Trust, Dr Licence and his team have successfully managed to integrate electrochemistry with UHV spectroscopy to allow the in-situ characterisation of interesting metal based compounds whilst in solution. They believe that their technique will allow them to shed light on the design of new catalysts for energy generation and efficient chemical production using ionic liquid based approaches.
Dr Licence's research, in the Nottingham Ionic Liquids Group, focuses on both the exploitation and manipulation of some of the unusual physical properties that are offered by alternative solvent systems, especially room temperature ionic liquids. His group is part of the University's DICE project, www.nottingham.ac.uk/dice which brings chemists and engineers together to solve challenging scientific problems.
Dr Licence said: "The implementation of green chemistry and sustainability are key concepts that run throughout both my research and teaching interests. The development of environmentally benign materials and products via efficient, clean chemistry is my long-term goal. As a result of this research we can design more efficient catalysts, new probes, sensors, functionalised electrodes. We really want to push this technology to see how far we can take it."
Dr Licence's work has also made him one of the stars of the University's award winning Periodic Table of Videos channel on YouTube —
To find out more about what makes this scientist tick go to
About University of Nottingham
The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 100 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THE) World University Rankings.
More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to RAE 2008, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranks the University 7th in the UK by research power. In 27 subject areas, the University features in the UK Top Ten, with 14 of those in the Top Five.
The University provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's “only truly global university”, it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation — School of Pharmacy), and was named ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2008.
Nottingham was designated as a Science City in 2005 in recognition of its rich scientific heritage, industrial base and role as a leading research centre. Nottingham has since embarked on a wide range of business, property, knowledge transfer and educational initiatives (www.science-city.co.uk) in order to build on its growing reputation as an international centre of scientific excellence. The University of Nottingham is a partner in Nottingham: the Science City.
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Dr Pete Licence
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