Magazine article Science News

New Structure Reveals Catalysts' Details. (Science News of the Week)

Magazine article Science News

New Structure Reveals Catalysts' Details. (Science News of the Week)

Article excerpt

Two centuries after Englishman William Hyde Wollaston first isolated the element palladium, researchers have now uncovered fundamental new information about the material.

Palladium--a soft, gray-white metal that resembles platinum--is a component in dental alloys, jewelry, and electrical contacts. It also serves as an important catalyst in countless chemical reactions, including those that occur in automobiles' catalytic converters. Fundamental reactions widely used to produce pharmaceuticals, such as reactions that add hydrogen atoms to molecules, also rely on palladium catalysts.

With the help of a newly synthesized palladium compound, a team of Japanese researchers has uncovered chemical information that they say is important to understanding and designing such catalysts. The finding is reported in the Jan. 11 SCIENCE by Shigeru Shimada and his colleagues at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tsukuba, Japan.

The new compound contains a palladium atom bonded to surrounding atoms in a way that scientists hadn't observed previously. This novel arrangement seems to change the palladium atom's so-called oxidation state, or oxidation number. An atom's oxidation state defines its capacity to donate, accept, or share electrons when it bonds to other atoms. It's a concept familiar to generations of chemistry students and fundamental to scientists' understanding of how chemical reactions work.

"Half the reactions in nature deal with oxidation state," says chemist Robert H. …

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