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UW Crest with engineering background
October 12, 2022

Research by Szlufarska and Xi featured in Chemistry World

Written By: Jason Daley


Photo of Izabela Szlufarska
Izabela Szlufarska

Chemistry World, a monthly chemistry news magazine published by the Royal Society of Chemistry, recently ran a story highlighting research conducted by Izabela Szlufarska, Harvey D. Spangler Professor of Engineering and chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Jianqi Xi, a scientist in the department.

The article discusses a paper in the journal Physical Review Letters in which Szlufarska and Xi model the impact of changes in bulk atoms on surface properties of materials.

Surfaces present interesting chemical problems. Unlike bulk atoms beneath the surface, which are packed together and bonded to their neighbors, atoms at the surface of a material can have dangling bonds, which means they often exhibit different properties.

Jianqi Xi

It’s been generally understood that surface reactivity is a consequence of how these atoms interact at the interface. But a simulation by the team indicates that properties of the bulk atoms can also influence these reactions.

The researchers modeled a hydrogen scission reaction at the surface of amorphous silicon carbide. They then tuned the elasticity of the bulk atoms, making the material more elastic or stiffer. What they found is that the deformation of the bulk atoms plays a role in controlling the surface reactions.

Szlufarska says she hopes experimentalists will test the model in their labs. In the future, the team plans to investigate how this effect applies to other types of materials and thinks it could open doors to new applications in catalysis and chemical reactions since controlling bulk properties is cheaper and easier than controlling surface properties.