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Chemistry controlled on tiniest scale can create hollow nanoparticles

The same process that creates rust could be used to design new drug-delivery or energy technologies

9:00am, May 1, 2017
rusty truck

OXIDATION IN ACTION  Rust is just one type of iron oxide. By studying the process of oxidation in atomic-level detail, scientists can learn to better control it, creating oxides that are useful instead of just eyesores.

Blame oxidation for rusted bridges and browned avocados. But this fundamental process can be harnessed for good, too — and now scientists have scored front-row seats that could show them how.

Researchers watched at near-atomic resolution as iron nanoparticles transformed into iron oxide — not rust in this case, but related compounds. That closeup view could help scientists better control oxidation and design corrosion-resistant materials or new kinds of catalysts, the researchers report in the April 21 Science.

This is the first time the oxidation process has been observed in such detail, says Andreu Cabot, a physicist at the Catalonia Institute for Energy Research in Barcelona who wasn’t part of the study.

When a metal oxidizes, its atoms mix and mingle with oxygen atoms to create a new material. That process is perhaps most famous for creating rust, which flakes

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