Rethinking Chemical Reactions at Hyperthermal Energies

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Science  29 Jun 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6089, pp. 1650-1651
DOI: 10.1126/science.1223680

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A chemical reaction usually involves the breaking of old chemical bonds and the formation of new bonds. Internal vibrational energy or translational energy of the reacting molecules could affect the dynamics of chemical bond breaking and formation processes in an major way. The effects of vibrational excitation on chemical reactivity have been extensively investigated for decades (1, 2), especially for highly vibrationally excited molecules. Studies of the translational effects on chemical dynamics have mainly focused on energies near the reaction barriers; reaction dynamics at hyperthermal translational energies (far above the barriers) has received much less attention. On page 1687 of this issue, Jankunas et al. (3) report that the dynamics of the simplest chemical reaction, H + D2 → HD + D, change in unexpected ways at hyperthermal translational energies and they provide a theoretical explanation for this unusual behavior.