Probing Silver Nanoparticles During Catalytic H2 Evolution

Employing silver nanoparticles from a recently developed synthesis [Evanoff, D. D.; Chumanov, G. J. Phys. Chem. B 2004, 108, 13948] and a well-studied probe molecule, p-aminothiophenol, we follow changes at the surface of the particles during the conditioning and eventually the catalytic production of hydrogen from water using strongly reducing radicals. Injection of electrons into the particles causes pronounced variations in the intensity of the surface enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) spectrum of the probe molecule. These spectral changes are caused by changes in the Fermi-level energy that are in turn caused by changes in the silver ion concentrations or in the pH, or by changes in electron density in the particle. This correlation highlights the effect of the chemical potential on the SERS enhancement at the end of the particles synthesis. The intensity of the SERS spectra increases in the presence of the silver ions when excitation at 514 nm is utilized. When the Ag+ ions in the colloidal suspension are completely reduced by the radicals and the particles operate in the catalytic mode, the SERS spectrum is too weak to record, but it can reversibly be recovered upon the addition of Ag+. The effect of pH on the SERS intensity is similar in nature to that of the silver ions but is complicated by the pKa of the aminothiol and the point of zero charge (pzc) of the particles. It is hypothesized that as the particles cross the pzc (around neutral pH) the electrostatic interaction between the protonated amine headgroup of the probe and the positively charged surface increases the density of probe molecules in the perpendicular orientation at the expense of a competing species. This conversion results in enhanced SERS signals and is observable during the preconditioning stage of the particles. Indeed, adsorption isotherms of the probe indicate the presence of two species. In analogous previous observations these two species have been attributed to perpendicular and flat adsorption orientations of the deprotonated probe molecule relative to the particle surface. However, preliminary density functional calculations on relevant prototypes raise the possibility that the two species may be the probe molecule and a cationic form produced by charge transfer in the ground state from the chemisorbed probe to the metal. These two forms of the probe have differing electronic structures and vibrational frequencies, with perhaps differing orientations relative to the surface. Whichever is the correct interpretation, a neutral molecule in a flat orientation or a radical cation, this species is easier to replace than the other in competitive adsorption by ethanethiol.