Small metal parades (<5 nanometers), which are widely used in catalysis, have physical and chemical properties that are markedly different from those of the bulk metal. The differences are related to crystal structure, and it is therefore significant that structural rearrangements in small particles have been observed in real time by using high-resolution electron microscopy. A detailed investigation at the atomic level has been made of the factors affecting the dynamic activity of small gold crystals that are supported on thin films of amorphous carbon, silicon, and germanium. The rate of activity depends mainly on the current density of the incident electron beam and the degree of contact of the particle with the substrate, but this rate decreases rapidly as the particle size is increased. The activity of the particles is very similar on either carbon or silicon, but it is generally less marked on germanium because of increased contact between the particle and the substrate. The electron beam effectively heats the particles, and it appears that their dynamic behavior depends on their thermal contact with the substrate.
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