Water-Mediated Proton Hopping on an Iron Oxide Surface

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

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Water-Assisted Proton Diffusion

Proton diffusion on metal oxide surfaces can play an important role in many catalytic processes. The presence of water is thought to accelerate proton diffusion. Merte et al. (p. 889) used high-speed, high-resolution scanning tunneling microscopy to study proton diffusion on an iron oxide. On oxygen-terminated FeO monolayer films formed on Pt, molecular water accelerated proton diffusion. Density function theory calculations implicated a H3O+ transition state in the diffusion process.


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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