Lyding spreads word of chemistry discovery

 Subscribe to ECE ILLINOIS News

By Nathaniel Lash, ECE ILLINOIS
June 23, 2011

  • ECE Professor Joseph Lyding recently published an invited News and Views article in Nature Chemistry on a recent breakthrough by Nobel Laureate John Polanyi.
  • Polanyi and his team discovered that under certain conditions, energetic molecules can "cart-wheel" across a surface, a discovery that could advance the scientific community's understanding of catalysis.
  • Lyding's publication may help the discovery reach chemistry and nanotechnology outsiders.

Joseph W. Lyding
Joseph W. Lyding

ECE Professor Joseph W. Lyding is using his expertise in microscopy to help communicate new findings in chemistry. Lyding, a researcher with the Beckman Institute, recently published an invited News and Views article analyzing a potential breakthrough in Nature Chemistry, one of the field’s highest impact journals.

Lyding investigated the findings of Nobel Laureate John Polanyi and his team, who used both the active and passive aid of a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) to discover that under certain conditions, energetic molecules can “cart-wheel” across a surface, a discovery that could advance the scientific community’s understanding of catalysis. 

In addition to the STM’s role in observing molecules, the electrons emitted from the tip of an STM were used to excite molecules lying on a silicon surface. These molecules were later found at relatively great distances from their initial points on the surface. Polanyi concluded this could only be explained by the molecule rolling end-over-end in what the team dubbed a “molecular cart-wheeling motion.”

Lyding explained, “If you pick up a wheel lying flat on the ground, stand it on its edge, and kick it, off it would go. That’s what the STM is doing in this case. In so doing, the molecule is sampling a large area, so the possibility of it encountering something that may cause a catalytic chemical reaction to occur increases dramatically.”

Lyding’s publication may help the discovery reach chemistry and nanotechnology outsiders. 

“My article is for chemists and nonchemists alike,” he said. “If you actually go and read Polanyi’s paper, it would be intractable except for people immersed in the field of scanned probe microscopy and/or chemistry.”

Polanyi’s discovery opens doors for researchers investigating catalytic processes.

“It suggests various types of experiments that are of interest to me, and I think will be of interest to many groups in the world,” Lyding said.

Lyding’s article can be read in volume 3 of Nature Chemistry’s May 2011 issue, or online at http://www.nature.com/nchem/journal/v3/n5/full/nchem.1035.html.

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Brad Petersen, Director of Communications, at bradp@illinois.edu or (217) 244-6376.

 Subscribe to ECE ILLINOIS News