Materials, and in particular material surfaces, play a crucial role in determining the outcome of many critical chemical reactions. This is evident from the ubiquitous role that heterogenous catalysis plays in enabling modern society. Properly tailored catalysts can significantly reduce the barrier to chemical conversion, thereby increasing efficiency and economic viability while reducing the overall impact of the process.
The Materials and Surface Science (MSS) group is primarily focussed on gaining fundamental insight into the chemical and physical processes that occur during atomic and molecular interactions at surfaces. The main interest is in understanding how the composition and structure of the materials can influence the outcome of the interaction processes. By gaining precise knowledge of what happens at the surface we seek to provide the basis for improving how materials are implemented for chemical conversion.
Current active research efforts are concentrated on the interaction of "plasma-activated" molecules that are relevant for solar fuel production - namely water (H2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2) - with solid materials. Plasma-activation produces atomic and molecular species in excited states, which significantly alters and often greatly enhances their reactivity. Consequently, the interaction of excited species with can be dramatically different from that of the equivalent ground-state species. This alters the requirement for, and the demands on, the material used to mediate chemical conversion.