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In a bid to find a better way to clean up trichloroethene (TCE), a stubborn pollutant found in water, scientists at the Rice University, Huston, have created a method that allows them to see molecules break down on the surface of a catalyst as individual chemical bonds are formed and broken.

This chemical sensing technique relies on nano particles consisting of gold and silica called nanoshells, which are about 20 times smaller than a red blood cell. It can amplify light waves and focus them so tightly that scientists can use them to detect just a few molecules of a target chemical. Building catalysts directly on the surface of the nanoparticles themselves allows researchers to use the nanosensing capabilities of nanoshells to directly follow chemical reactions on the catalyst using light.

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