Artists rendition of an aluminum-iodine "Superatom" identified by the Castleman group at Penn State and the Khanna group at Virginia Commonwealth University. Credit: D.E. Bergeron, P.J. Roach, A.W. Castleman, N.O. Jones, and S.N. Khanna
A research team has discovered clusters of aluminum atoms that have chemical properties similar to single atoms of metallic and nonmetallic elements when they react with iodine. The discovery opens the door to using ’superatom chemistry’ based on a new periodic table of cluster elements to create unique compounds with distinctive properties never seen before. The results of the research, headed jointly by Shiv N. Khanna, professor of physics at Virginia Commonwealth University and A. Welford Castleman Jr., the Evan Pugh Professor of Chemistry and Physics and the Eberly Family Distinguished Chair in Science at Penn State University, will be reported in the 14 January 2005 issue of the journal Science.
"Depending on the number of aluminum atoms in the cluster, we have demonstrated ’superatoms’ exhibiting the properties of either halogens or alkaline earth metals," says Castleman. "This result suggests the intriguing potential of this chemistry in nanoscale synthesis." The discovery could have practical applications in the fields of medicine, food production and photography.
The researchers examined the chemical properties, electronic structure, and geometry of aluminum clusters both theoretically and experimentally in chemical compounds with iodine atoms. They found that a cluster of 13 aluminum atoms behaves like a single iodine atom, while a cluster of 14 aluminum atoms behaves like an alkaline earth atom. "The discovery of these new iodine compounds, which include aluminum clusters, is critical because it reveals a new form of ’superatom’ chemistry," said Khanna. "In the future, we may apply this chemistry, building on our previous knowledge, to create new materials for energy applications and even medical devices."
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