A computer simulation shows a jet of propane just six nanometers wide exiting a nozzle.
Computer sims vital tools in exploring nanoworld
Years ago, when Uzi Landman and his colleagues set out to uncover some of the rules that govern why a non-reactive metal like gold acts as a catalyst when it is in nanoclusters only a few atoms in size, they didn’t sit down in a lab with the precious metal. Instead, they ran computer simulations and discovered that gold is a very effective catalyst when it is in clusters of eight to two dozen atoms. They also found that electrical charging of gold is crucial to its catalytic capabilities. Six years later, the team has verified their earlier predictions experimentally, and they stand ready to further explore environmental effects on catalysis.
This practice of partnering computer simulations with real-world experiments is becoming more vital as scientists delve deeper into realms where the actors are measured on the nanoscale, Landman told a group of scientists Thursday, February 17 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). "Small is different," said Landman, director of the Center for Computational Materials Science and professor of physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology. "We cannot use the way physical systems behave on the large scale to predict what will happen when we go to levels only a few atoms in size. In this size regime, electrons transport electricity in a different way, crystallites have different mechanical properties and gold nanowires have strength twenty times larger than a big bar of gold, and inert metals may exhibit remarkable catalytic activity. But we know the rules of physics, and we can use them to create model environments in which we can discover new phenomena through high-level computer-based simulations."
David Terraso | EurekAlert!
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