Capturing Surface Processes

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Science  14 Feb 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6172, pp. 739-740
DOI: 10.1126/science.1250472

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The outer atomic layers of a solid or liquid play a central role in determining the properties of the sample as a whole, because it is here where the material interacts with the external environment. Detailed knowledge of the arrangement of atoms at a surface or interface between two materials is required to understand and tune the material's properties. This outer-layer structure is crucial for technological processes such as catalysis, lubrication, and electron transport. In surface x-ray diffraction, surface structures are investigated by directing high-energy x-rays at a sample at grazing angles of typically less than 1° (1). On page 758 of this issue, Gustafson et al. outline a different geometry for these measurements, using even higher-energy x-rays and shallower angles to allow faster data collection, enabling dynamic surface restructuring processes to be captured (2).