PerspectiveChemistry

Catalysts by Platonic design

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Science  24 Jul 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6246, pp. 379-380
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac7861

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Summary

Around 360 BCE, in his work Timaeus, the Greek philosopher Plato elaborated on the four elements as the basic components of our cosmos: earth, water, air, and fire. He argued that each element consists of small, highly symmetric corpuscles—the cube for earth, the tetrahedron for fire, the icosahedron for water, and the octahedron for air. The faces of the latter three corpuscles consist of equilateral triangles, which—according to Plato—allows air, water, and fire to interconvert. Plato would likely be thrilled to learn that, as recently confirmed by Huang et al. (1), nanoscale Pt-Ni octahedra are the catalytically most active known material for converting air (molecular oxygen) into water and fire (thermal energy). On page 412 of this issue, Zhang et al. (2) show that octahedral and cubic hollow shells of just a few atomic Pt layers are also versatile catalysts, with the octahedral shells particularly active for oxygen reduction. Such tiny metallic octahedra may one day become the building blocks of electrodes for electrochemical energy conversion.