Electrochemical surface science of oxides is an emerging field with expected high impact in developing, for instance, rationally designed catalysts. The aim in such catalysts is to replace noble metals by earth-abundant elements, yet without sacrificing activity. Gaining an atomic-level understanding of such systems hinges on the use of experimental surface characterization techniques such as scanning tunneling microscopy (STM), in which tungsten tips have been the most widely used probes, both in vacuum and under electrochemical conditions. Here, we present an in situ STM study with atomic resolution that shows how tungsten(VI) oxide, spontaneously generated at a W STM-tip, forms 1D adsorbates on oxide substrates. By comparing the behavior of rutile TiO2(110) and magnetite Fe3O4(001) in aqueous solution, we hypothesize that, below the point of zero charge of the oxide substrate, electrostatics causes water-soluble WO3 to efficiently adsorb and form linear chains in a self-limiting manner up to submonolayer coverage. The 1D oligomers can be manipulated and nanopatterned in situ with a scanning probe tip. As WO3 spontaneously forms under all conditions of potential and pH at the tungsten-aqueous solution interface, this phenomenon also identifies an important caveat regarding the usability of tungsten tips in electrochemical surface science of oxides and other highly adsorptive materials.
Corresponding author: Stijn Mertens. Reprints also available from Ulrike Diebold (diebold).
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