Chemistry in the TEM – New Horizons for Catalyst Research

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Chemistry in the TEM – New Horizons for Catalyst Research

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The $16.3 billion catalyst market continues to grow to support the expanding needs of the petroleum refinery, polymer and chemical synthesis industries. With this growth a greater emphasis is being placed on improving catalyst properties at the nanoscale. 

Research aimed at understanding the structural changes that heterogeneous catalysts undergo during chemical reaction under realistic conditions is crucial. However, the hot, gaseous environments required for these reactions generally preclude direct observation of these changes in great detail.

With the advent of “closed-cell” in situ TEM holders it is now possible to image single atoms in catalyst materials at 1 atm of pressure and at temperatures exceeding 900 °C. This functionality has been used to great effect in recent work performed by researchers at University of Michigan, Stanford University, and University of California at Irvine.

The focus of this work was on a TiO2-supported Pd catalyst, well known to exhibit the strong metal support interaction (SMSI), which causes the catalyst to be very sensitive to temperature and gas environment changes that can lead to dramatic fluctuations in performance.

Chemistry in the TEM – New Horizons for Catalyst Research

Researchers at the University of Michigan, using the Protochips Atmosphere system, were able to directly observe the atom-by-atom migration of TiOx onto and off the surface of Pd nanoparticles under realistic gas environments. This was the first time this reaction sequence was directly observed at atomic resolution and demonstrates the profound capabilities available using in-situ microscopy with atmospheric control. Under reducing conditions they found that as the catalyst is heated, an amorphous TiOx layer forms on the Pd surface initially, then transitions into a crystalline, impermeable TiOx layer at 500 °C. Because this layer shields the Pd from surrounding gas, the performance of the TiO2-supported Pd catalyst is markedly reduced. 

  • Learn how leading researchers are pioneering the use of in-situ TEM microscopy to advance our understanding of catalyst materials.
  • Explore the challenges of developing modern catalysts and how in-situ TEM studies can be a powerful and cost effective technique to meet the diverse needs of researchers.
  • Learn about how any modern TEM can be used to study materials at pressure up to 1 atm and at temperatures up to 1000C.
  • Listen to experts who explain what is required for modern catalysis research and answer questions about their research and yours


Dr. George W. Graham, Adjunct Professor at the University of Michigan and Project Scientist in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at the University of California – Irvine.

Shuyi Zhang, University of Michigan.

Ben Jacobs, Protochips.

Joe D'angelo, (Moderator), Materials Science Publisher, Elsevier.


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