Water-Mediated Proton Hopping on an Iron Oxide Surface

Science  18 May 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6083, pp. 889-893
DOI: 10.1126/science.1219468

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The diffusion of hydrogen atoms across solid oxide surfaces is often assumed to be accelerated by the presence of water molecules. Here we present a high-resolution, high-speed scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) study of the diffusion of H atoms on an FeO thin film. STM movies directly reveal a water-mediated hydrogen diffusion mechanism on the oxide surface at temperatures between 100 and 300 kelvin. Density functional theory calculations and isotope-exchange experiments confirm the STM observations, and a proton-transfer mechanism that proceeds via an H3O+-like transition state is revealed. This mechanism differs from that observed previously for rutile TiO2(110), where water dissociation is a key step in proton diffusion.

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