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Water Catalysis of a Radical-Molecule Gas-Phase Reaction

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Science  26 Jan 2007:
Vol. 315, Issue 5811, pp. 497-501
DOI: 10.1126/science.1134494

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Abstract

There has been considerable speculation about the role of water and water complexes in chemical gas-phase reactions, including the conjecture that water may act as a molecular catalyst through its ability to form hydrogen bonds. Here, we present kinetic studies in which the effect of water on the rate of the reaction between hydroxyl radicals and acetaldehyde has been measured directly in Laval nozzle expansions at low temperatures. An increasing enhancement of the reaction rate by added water was found with decreasing temperatures between 300 and 60 kelvin. Quantum chemical calculations and statistical rate theory support our conclusions that this observation is due to the reduction of an intrinsic reaction barrier caused by specific water aggregation. The results suggest that even single water molecules can act as catalysts in radical-molecule reactions.

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