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News Release 08-200

When A Good Nanoparticle Goes Bad

Understanding how nanoparticles change form may help solve energy needs

Clues found in nanoparticles may help solve global energy challenge.

Clues found in nanoparticles may help produce environmentally clean energy.

November 10, 2008

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

Researchers at Cornell University recently made a major breakthrough when they invented a method to test and demonstrate a long-held hypothesis that some very, very small metal particles work much better than others in various chemical processes such as converting chemical energy to electricity in fuel cells or reducing automobile pollution.

The breakthrough, reported in this week's edition of the journal Nature Materials, also came with a surprise. By devising a way to watch individual molecules react with a single nanoscale particle of gold in real time, researchers confirmed that some gold particles are better at increasing the rate of a chemical reaction than others, but they also found that a good catalyst sometimes spontaneously turns bad.

Understanding why these particles change and how to stabilize the "good" particles may lead to solutions for a wide range of problems such as the current global energy challenge.


Media Contacts
Bobbie Mixon, NSF, (703) 292-8070, email:

Program Contacts
Rama Bansil, NSF, (703) 292-8562, email:
Z. Charles Ying, NSF, (703) 292-8428, email:
Thomas P. Rieker, NSF, (703) 292-4914, email:

Principal Investigators
Peng Chen, Cornell University, (607) 254-8533, email:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2017, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.

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