Over the last two decades, the development and improvement of new techniques to fabricate and characterize nanoscale materials have fueled much of the enormous growth in nanoscale science and technology, not only by making nanoscale materials relatively easily available for scientific study and characterization, but also in some instances, opening the door for large scale industrial use. For example, atomic force microscopy and scanning tunneling microscopy are two techniques that have become major workhorses for characterization of nanoscale materials. The strong upsurge in interest and funding in nanoscale materials must to some (large) degree be credited to the recent development of these two techniques. Combining X-ray structure, high resolution TEM and low energy, high resolution scanning electron microscopy (SEM), researchers now have the means to physically characterize even the smallest structures in ways impossible just a few years ago. Not only can a nanostructure be precisely examined, but its electronic character can also be mapped out.

Using the scanning probe devices, scientists can both image individual atoms and molecules and also manipulate and arrange them one at a time. This atomic manipulation to build structures is just in its infancy, but it does allow one to imagine a route to the ultimate goal of atomically tailored materials, built up atom-by-atom by a robotic synthesizer. The "abacus" of C60 molecules produced at the IBM laboratories in 1997 is an excellent example of possibilities that may lie ahead for manipulation at the atomic scale. The Atom Technology project in Japan is now in its second five-year program to push the frontiers of atom manipulation closer to the commercial sector (see NAIR site report in Appendix D).

Of all fundamental properties controlling the stability of atoms, clusters, and particles on a surface or support, knowledge of the adsorption and adhesive energies of the metal atom or particle on the solid metal or oxide surface is critical to fundamental understanding of the stability of high surface area materials for materials applications that include oxide-supported metal catalysts, bimetallic catalysts, and metal-ceramic interfaces used in microelectronics. Knowledge of such parameters allows researchers to predict the relative strengths of the metal-metal and metal atom-support interaction energies, and to infer relative stabilities as a function of the composition and size of the metal cluster. Recently it has become possible to experimentally measure the metal atom-surface bond strength on a per-atom basis using adsorption micro-calorimetry on ultrathin single crystal metal or metal oxide surfaces (Stuckless et al. 1997). The direct calorimetric measurement of metal adsorption energies developed at the University of Washington is based in part on earlier work first developed by D.A. King and colleagues at Cambridge University (Yeo et al. 1995). A technique such as this capable of probing interactions on an atom-by-atom or molecule-by-molecule basis can be thought of as another "atomic probe" that can be expected to substantially advance our database and understanding at the ultimate nanoscale for materials, that is, single atom binding energies to surfaces.

Similarly, new techniques are being developed to allow chemical and catalytic reactions to be followed in situ in real time. As an example, an infrared and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopic technique is being developed at the Max Planck Institute in Mülheim (see the MPI Mülheim site report in Appendix B) to monitor kinetics of CO adsorption on 1-3 nm diameter metal colloid particles (typically Pt, Rh, or Pd) in liquids and to follow in real time the way CO organizes itself on the particles while in liquid suspension. Such techniques will allow one to begin to understand the metal particle properties in solution and thus infer what might occur in real reaction mixtures. Extension of such techniques to real catalytic reactions in solution for catalyst particles of various sizes and composition is likely in the not too distant future.

Published: September 1999; WTEC Hyper-Librarian