The advent of scanning tunnelling microscopy (STM)

Atom resolved surface reactions: nanocatalysis

P R Davies and M W Roberts

Cambridge, UK: RSC Publishing 2008 | 221pp | ?90.00 (HB) ISBN 9780854042692

Reviewed by Stephen J Jenkins

The advent of scanning tunnelling microscopy (STM) in the 1980s promised to revolutionise studies of the adsorption, diffusion, reaction and desorption processes that define the ground-rules of heterogeneous catalysis. It soon became clear, however, that proper interpretation of beguiling STM images was a subtle skill, requiring careful cross-reference with theory and other more established techniques. This welcome book reviews the remarkable progress that has nevertheless been made via STM in understanding surface catalysis at an atomically-resolved level. Beginning with an engagingly personal historical overview of early surface studies, and proceeding via two chapters on the fundamentals of experimental surface science and of STM itself, the balance of the book is devoted to a survey of notable applications abstracted from the recent literature. Topics range from the traditional (catalytic oxidation; alkali metal, sulfur and thiol adsorption) to the fashionable (high-pressure STM; nanoparticle reactivity; surface engineering) and give a good flavour of the technique’s current ubiquity.

My one reservation about the book lies in the emphasis it places upon the role of highly-reactive transient species, described by the authors as both vibrationally and electronically ’hot’ for lifetimes in the order of picoseconds. Whilst most surface scientists might consider the vibrational statement at least plausible, the idea that a radical ion could persist so long in close proximity to a metal surface is altogether more controversial. The authors make a good case that STM provides information relevant to the former contention, but so far as I am aware it provides no conclusive evidence unequivocally supporting the latter. Nevertheless, the authors refer repeatedly to transient oxgyen species as electronically non-thermal, forcing the reader to either buy into their interpretation or to mentally translate to more conventional language. This is unfortunate in an introductory text, and somewhat tempered my enthusiasm for an otherwise excellent book.