Lattice-Hydride Mechanism in Electrocatalytic CO2 Reduction by Structurally Precise Copper-Hydride Nanocluster

J. Am. Chem. Soc., Article ASAP


Copper electrocatalysts can reduce CO2 to hydrocarbons at high overpotentials. However, a mechanistic understanding of CO2 reduction on nanostructured Cu catalysts has been lacking. Herein we show that the structurally precise ligand-protected Cu-hydride nanoclusters, such as Cu32H20L12 (L is a dithiophosphate ligand), offer unique selectivity for electrocatalytic CO2reduction at low overpotentials. Our density functional theory (DFT) calculations predict that the presence of the negatively charged hydrides in the copper cluster plays a critical role in determining the selectivity of the reduction product, yielding HCOOH over CO with a lower overpotential. The HCOOH formation proceeds via the lattice-hydride mechanism: first, surface hydrides reduce CO2 to HCOOH product, and then the hydride vacancies are readily regenerated by the electrochemical proton reduction. DFT calculations further predict that hydrogen evolution is less competitive than HCOOH formation at the low overpotential. Confirming the predictions, electrochemical tests of CO2 reduction on the Cu32H20L12 cluster demonstrate that HCOOH is indeed the main product at low overpotential, while H2 production dominates at higher overpotential. The unique selectivity afforded by the lattice-hydride mechanism opens the door for further fundamental and applied studies of electrocatalytic CO2reduction by copper-hydride nanoclusters and other metal nanoclusters that contain hydrides.


A Molecule-like PtAu24(SC6H13)18 Nanocluster as an Electrocatalyst for Hydrogen Production

Kyuju Kwak†, Woojun Choi†, Qing Tang, Minseok Kim, Yongjin Lee, De-en Jiang*, Dongil Lee*
(† equal contribution)
Nature Commun., 2017, 8, 14723


The theoretically predicted volcano plot for hydrogen production
shows the best catalyst as the one that ensures that the hydrogen
binding step is thermodynamically neutral. However, the experimental
realization of this concept has suffered from the inherent surface
heterogeneity of solid catalysts. It is even more challenging for
molecular catalysts because of their complex chemical environment.
Here, we report that the thermoneutral catalyst can be prepared by
simple doping of a platinum atom into a molecule-like gold nanocluster.
The catalytic activity of the resulting bimetallic nanocluster,
PtAu24(SC6H13)18, for the hydrogen production is found to be significantly
higher than reported catalysts. It is even better than the benchmarking
platinum catalyst. The molecule-like bimetallic nanocluster represents
a class of catalysts that bridge homogeneous and heterogeneous
catalysis and may provide a platform for the discovery of finely optimized


Interconversion Between Superatomic 6-Electron and 8-Electron Configurations of M@Au24(SR)18 Clusters (M = Pd, Pt)

Kyuju Kwak, Qing Tang, Minseok Kim, De-en Jiang*, and Dongil Lee*
J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2015, 137 (33), pp 10833–10840


The exceptional stability of thiolate-protected Au25 clusters, [Au25(SR)18], arises from the closure of superatomic electron shells, leading to a noble-gas-like 8-electron configuration (1S21P6). Here we present that replacing the core Au atom with Pd or Pt results in stable [MAu24(SR)18]0 clusters (M = Pd, Pt) having a superatomic 6-electron configuration (1S21P4). Voltammetric studies of [PdAu24(SR)18]0 and [PtAu24(SR)18]0 reveal that the highest occupied molecular orbital–lowest unoccupied molecular orbital (HOMO–LUMO) gaps of these clusters are 0.32 and 0.29 eV, respectively, indicating their electronic structures are drastically altered upon doping of the foreign metal. Density functional investigations confirm that the HOMO–LUMO gaps of these clusters are indeed smaller, respectively 0.33 and 0.32 eV, than that of [Au25(SR)18] (1.35 eV). Analysis of the optimized geometries for the 6-electron [MAu24(SR)18]0 clusters shows that the MAu12 core is slightly flattened to yield an oblate ellipsoid. The drastically decreased HOMO–LUMO gaps observed are therefore the result of Jahn–Teller-like distortion of the 6-electron [MAu24(SR)18]0 clusters, accompanying splitting of the 1P orbitals. These clusters become 8-electron [MAu24(SR)18]2– clusters upon electronic charging, demonstrating reversible interconversion between the 6-electron and 8-electron configurations of MAu24(SR)18.


Ultrabright Luminescence from Gold Nanoclusters: Rigidifying the Au(I)–Thiolate Shell

Kyunglim Pyo, Viraj Dhanushka Thanthirige, Kyuju Kwak, Prabhu Pandurangan, Guda Ramakrishna, and Dongil Lee
J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2015, 137 (25), pp 8244–8250


Luminescent nanomaterials have captured the imagination of scientists for a long time and offer great promise for applications in organic/inorganic light-emitting displays, optoelectronics, optical sensors, biomedical imaging, and diagnostics. Atomically precise gold clusters with well-defined core–shell structures present bright prospects to achieve high photoluminescence efficiencies. In this study, gold clusters with a luminescence quantum yield greater than 60% were synthesized based on the Au22(SG)18 cluster, where SG is glutathione, by rigidifying its gold shell with tetraoctylammonium (TOA) cations. Time-resolved and temperature-dependent optical measurements on Au22(SG)18 have shown the presence of high quantum yield visible luminescence below freezing, indicating that shell rigidity enhances the luminescence quantum efficiency. To achieve high rigidity of the gold shell, Au22(SG)18 was bound to bulky TOA that resulted in greater than 60% quantum yield luminescence at room temperature. Optical measurements have confirmed that the rigidity of gold shell was responsible for the luminescence enhancement. This work presents an effective strategy to enhance the photoluminescence efficiencies of gold clusters by rigidifying the Au(I)–thiolate shell.


An Ionic Liquid of Au25 Nanocluster: a Versatile Matrix for Electrochemical Biosensors

K. Kwak, S. S. Kumar, K. Pyo, D. Lee
ACS Nano, 2014, 8 (1), pp 671–679


Ionic liquids are room-temperature molten salts that are increasingly used in electrochemical devices, such as batteries, fuel cells and sensors, where their intrinsic ionic conductivity is exploited. Here we demonstrate that combining anionic, redox-active Au25 clusters with imidazolium cations leads to a stable ionic liquid possessing both ionic and electronic conductivity. The Au25 ionic liquid was found to act as a versatile matrix for amperometric enzyme biosensors towards the detection of glucose. Enzyme electrodes prepared by incorporating glucose oxidase in the Au25 ionic liquid show high electrocatalytic activity and substrate affinity. Au25 clusters in the electrode were found to act as effective redox mediators as well as electronic conductors determining the detection sensitivity. With the unique electrochemical properties and almost unlimited structural tunability, the ionic liquids of quantum-sized gold clusters promise to open new avenues to serve as versatile matrices for a variety of electrochemical biosensors.


Information on Quantum States Pervades the Visible Spectrum of the Ubiquitous Au144(SR)60 Gold Nanocluster

H.-Ch. Weissker, H. Barron Escobar, V. D. Thanthirige, K. Kwak, D. Lee, G. Ramakrishna, R. L. Whetten, X. Lopez Lozano
Nature Commun., 2014, 5, 3785.


Absorption spectra of very small metal clusters exhibit individual peaks that reflect the
discreteness of their localized electronic states. With increasing size, these states develop into bands and the discrete absorption peaks give way to smooth spectra with, at most, a broad localized surface-plasmon resonance band. The widely accepted view over the last decades has been that clusters of more than a few dozen atoms are large enough to have necessarily smooth spectra. Here we show through theory and experiment that for the ubiquitous thiolate cluster compound Au144(SR)60 this view has to be revised: clearly visible individual peaks pervade the full near-IR, VIS and near-UV ranges of low-temperature spectra, conveying information on quantum states in the cluster. The peaks develop well reproducibly with decreasing temperature, thereby highlighting the importance of temperature effects. Calculations using time-dependent density-functional theory indicate the contributions of different parts of the cluster–ligand compound to the spectra.



Electrochemical Characterization of Water-Soluble Au25 Nanoclusters Enabled by Phase-Transfer Reaction

K. Kwak, D. Lee

J. Phys. Chem. Lett., 2012, 3 (17), pp 2476–2481


We report the synthesis and electrochemical characterization of a new water-soluble Au25 cluster protected with (3-mercaptopropyl)sulfonate. The presence of sulfonate terminal groups on the surface of the cluster enabled facile phase transfer of the water-soluble cluster to organic phase by ion-pairing with hydrophobic counterions. The phase-transferred form of the water-soluble Au25 cluster was found to retain its integrity and allowed investigation of its electrochemical properties in organic media. The voltammetric investigation of the phase-transferred Au25 cluster in mixtures of CH2Cl2 and toluene has revealed that the cluster exhibits the characteristic Au25 peak pattern, but the electrochemical HOMO–LUMO energy gap of the cluster varies from 1.39 to 1.66 V depending on the solvent polarity. The origin of the solvent dependence is explained by the electrostatic field effect of the sulfonate anion on the redox potentials of the Au25 cluster.



Size-Controlled Electron Transfer and Photocatalytic Activity of ZnO-Au Nanoparticle Composites

Jaeil Lee †, Hyeong Seop Shim ‡, Myeongsoon Lee †, Jae Kyu Song *‡, and Dongil Lee *†J. Phys. Chem. Lett., 2011, 2 (22), pp 2840–2845


This Letter describes size-controlled photocatalytic activity of ZnO nanoparticles coated with glutathione-protected gold nanoparticles with diameters of 1.1, 1.6, and 2.8 nm. The photocatalytic activity of the ZnO–Au composites was found to increase with increasing gold size for both oxidative and reductive catalytic reactions. Photoluminescence decay dynamics of the composites showed that the electron-transfer rate from the photoexcited ZnO to gold nanoparticle also increased as the gold size increased. These results demonstrate that the photogenerated electron transfer and the resulting catalytic activity of the composites can be controlled by the size of the mediating gold capacitors.



Critical Size for the Observation of Quantum Confinement in Optically Excited Gold Clusters

Oleg Varnavski †, Guda Ramakrishna ‡, Junhyung Kim ‡, Dongil Lee *‡§ and Theodore Goodson *†J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2010, 132 (1), pp 16–17


We present a systematic study of optical properties of a series of hexanethiolate-capped Au clusters of varying sizes using femtosecond transient absorption, time-resolved fluorescence, and two-photon absorption cross-sectional measurements. An abrupt change in optical properties and their trends has been found at the 2.2 nm size. Displacively excited vibrations with a period of 450 fs have been detected in the transient absorption signal for smaller clusters ≤2.2 nm. These results strongly suggest an emerging optical gap between the highest occupied and lowest unoccupied orbitals in the narrow size range at 2.2 nm.



Electrochemical Characterization of Water-Soluble Au25 Nanoclusters Enabled by Phase-Transfer Reaction

K. Kwak, D. Lee, “Electrochemical Characterization of Water-Soluble Au25 Nanoclusters Enabled by Phase-Transfer Reaction”, J. Phys. Chem. Lett., 3, 2476-2481.


We report a systematic investigation of the optically excited vibrations in monolayer-protected gold clusters capped with hexane thiolate as a function of the particle size in the range of 1.1−4 nm. The vibrations were excited and monitored in transient absorption experiments involving 50 fs light pulses. For small quantum-sized clusters (≤2.2 nm), the frequency of these vibrations has been found to be independent of cluster size, while for larger clusters (3 and 4 nm), we did not observe detectable optically excited vibrations in this regime. Possible mechanisms of excitation and detection of the vibrations in nanoclusters in the course of the transient absorption are discussed. The results of the current investigation support a displacive excitation mechanism associated with the presence of finite optical energy gap in the quantum-sized nanoclusters. Observed vibrations provide a new valuable diagnostic tool for the investigations of quantum size effects and structural studies in metal nanoclusters.