X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy

XAS is a core-level spectroscopy technique, using a photo-excited electron from a core level (e.g. 1s or 2p) to probe unoccupied valence levels as well as the neighboring atomic structure. The ionization of core levels requires photons in the energy in the X-ray range, and spectroscopy requires an intensive continuous energy-spectrum, hence XAS is carried out at synchrotron radiation sources that provide both.

The measurement is conducted by scanning the incident photon energy using a monochromator. Once a sufficient energy is reached to ionize the atom at its core level, the absorption steeply increases at what is known as an absorption edge. Every element in the periodic table has a unique absorption edge, making the technique conveniently element-specific. The portion of the spectrum around the edge, known as the X-ray absorption near-edge structure (XANES) is a rich probe for the electronic structure of the unoccupied states as the low-energy photoelectron occupies these states. Chemical information about the oxidation state and local geometry is obtained from the XANES. As the incident energy is increased, more energy is transferred to the photoelectron, exciting it to the continuum of states and enabling it to back-scatter from neighboring atoms within ca. 10 Å. The back-scattering of the photo-electron causes a quantum-mechanical overlap between its initial and final state, causing an oscillatory modulation of absorption, or the extended X-ray absorption fine-structure (EXAFS). The Fourier-transform of the EXAFS is a radial distribution function, from which bond distances, number and speciation of neighboring atoms can be extracted.

XAS is the core technique of our group, since it is powerful in observing the chemical state and atomic structure in catalysts, especially under reaction conditions.

How were Lekythoi used in Ancient Greek Funeral Practices?

July 26, 2010

Anthropologists learn about ancient cultures through the objects left behind. Ritualistic artifacts give glimpses into the religious and belief systems of nonextant societies. Application of new techniques of chemical and structural analysis to the study of ancient objects can give more insight into how they were made and used.

A Bacterium that can Grow by Using Arsenic Instead of Phosphorus

December 14, 2010

Life is mostly composed of the elements carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur, and phosphorous.  Although these six elements make up biomolecules such as nucleic acids, proteins, and lipids, it is theoretically possible that some other elements in the periodic table could serve similar functions.  In a paper published in Science, Wolfe-Simon et. al., describe a bacterium of the Halomonadaceae family, strain GFAJ-1 which appears to substitute arsenic for phosphorous to sustain its growth.

Synchrotron X-ray Analysis Demonstrate Phosphate-Bound Gadolinium in Skin in Nephrogenic Systemic Fibrosis

December 13, 2010

Nephrogenic systemic fibrosis, or NSF, is a relatively new disease in which the skin becomes hardened, joint movement becomes difficult and, in extreme cases, an excessive and sometimes fatal fibrosis tissue forms around organs. So far, NSF has only been observed in patients with kidney dysfunction who have undergone an MRI that required the injection of gadolinium-based contrast agents (GBCAs). Researchers speculate that the patient's kidneys cannot break down the gadolinium, causing NSF, but until now there has been no direct evidence for such a link.

Electrochemical Surface Science: Hard X-rays Probe Fuel Cell Model Catalyst in situ

December 14, 2010

Researchers at SSRL have developed a new, more powerful way to probe the behavior of a key component in hydrogen fuel cells. The group, led by Daniel Friebel of SSRL and Anders Nilsson of SSRL and SIMES, coated a single crystal of rhodium with one layer of platinum atoms, creating a platinum catalyst that was in essence "all surface." The unique sample design allowed them to observe how the catalyst surface interacted with the type of acid–water environment typical of fuel cells.

Electronic Structure of O2-Bound Metal Sites in Biomimetic Model Complexes

March 28, 2011

Dioxygen (O2), critical for many of our cellular processes, is carried and activated by a variety of enzymes. These enzymes contain metals that contact the oxygen in different ways to form reactive intermediates. Oxygen’s reactivity is affected by the arrangement of the enzymes’ amino acid residues. Often, the enzyme active site will have a unique structure to stabilize oxygen binding.

Estimating Cr(VI) in Coal-Derived Fly-Ash

June 27, 2011

The element chromium is found in the environment in two common forms: Cr(VI), which is easily absorbed by the human body, and Cr(III), which is not. The first of these in the form of chromates can have severe adverse effects on the human body, including cancerous tumor formation and gene damage.  Normally Cr(VI) forms are not present in the approximately one billion tons of coal used annually for electricity generation in the U.S., however, a fraction of the Cr(III) in coal can become oxidized during coal combustion ending up as a Cr(VI) component in fly-ash, the major waste product from coal combustion. 

Structure and Reactivity of a Mononuclear Non-Haem Iron(III)–Peroxo Complex

November 28, 2011

The life-sustaining element oxygen can’t do its job alone. Specialized enzymes, containing metallic elements including iron, cause O2to split into two separate oxygen atoms.  In this form, oxygen can react with other biological molecules. The precise mechanism of oxygen activation by iron complexes has long eluded researchers, in part because the reaction—which proceeds through multiple intermediate stages—happens in mere fractions of a second.

Manganese-II Oxidation: A Biotic and Abiotic Process

December 12, 2011

Manganese, one of the most abundant metals in soils and rocks, is important to the health of the environment: As it cycles between manganese-II and nanocrystalline manganese-III/IV oxides, it plays an important role in controlling the cycle and transport of soil nutrients and contaminants.  Yet because the process is kinetically hindered, manganese will not oxidize rapidly in air; manganese needs a catalyst, often bacteria, to spur the process into action.

Towards the Chemically Specific Structure of Amorphous Materials: Anomalous X-ray Scattering from a Molybdenum-Germanium Alloy

November 29, 2002

Attempting to determine and describe the atomic arrangements in an amorphous material is a daunting prospect. A considerable advance has been made in the anomalous X-ray scattering approach to determining these arrangements in materials containing two atomic species.

Plants with the Midas Touch: Formation of Gold Nanoparticles by Alfalfa Plants

July 31, 2002

In the well-known Greek legend the touch of King Midas would convert anything to metallic gold. Recently, a team working at SSRL lead by Professor Jorge Gardea-Torresdey from the University of Texas at El Paso have shown that ordinary alfalfa plants can accumulate very small particles (nanoparticles) of metallic gold (1). The best-known materials that contain nanoparticles of metallic gold are gold colloids. These lack the familiar metallic luster, but show bright colors which range from red, violet or blue, depending upon the size of the nanoparticles (2,3). 

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