The Calisthenics of Surface Femtochemistry

  • By Aude Marjolin
  • 27 October 2016

Application of a femtosecond spectroscopy technique to a copper surface has allowed the desorption of carbon monoxide molecules to be tracked with unprecedented detail.

In this view point article, Hrvoje Petek comments on the work of Ken-ichi Inoue et al. on the multidimensional nonequilibrium dynamics of CO as it desorbs from a Cu(100) surface.  He opens by saying that "it has long been a chemist’s dream to catch a chemical reaction in the act", with the aim "to observe and interfere with this process in mid-course and thereby control its outcome".

Methods of femtochemistry, which has earned Ahmed Zewail (1946–2016) the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, can be extended to surfaces because they can serve as models for catalysis, and the study that Petek reflects on now reports on one of the most basic chemical processes on a surface—the desorption of carbon monoxide (CO) molecules from a copper surface, driven by femtosecond-laser heating of its electrons.

After describing the main points of the study, Petek concludes: "Matsumoto and co-workers achieve a deeper insight into molecular desorption by studying the vibrational response of an ensemble of molecules under intense femtosecond laser excitation. Their study motivates the quest for the holy grail of chemistry: the measurement of single-molecule chemistry with simultaneous femtosecond temporal and submolecular spatial scales. A previous observation of a single-molecule vibration suggests that this goal is within reach".

Read the full viewpoint article here.