Science, Vol.339, No.6125, 1302-1305, 2013
Real-Time Observation of Surface Bond Breaking with an X-ray Laser
We used the Linac Coherent Light Source free-electron x-ray laser to probe the electronic structure of CO molecules as their chemisorption state on Ru(0001) changes upon exciting the substrate by using a femtosecond optical laser pulse. We observed electronic structure changes that are consistent with a weakening of the CO interaction with the substrate but without notable desorption. A large fraction of the molecules (30%) was trapped in a transient precursor state that would precede desorption. We calculated the free energy of the molecule as a function of the desorption reaction coordinate using density functional theory, including van der Waals interactions. Two distinct adsorption wells-chemisorbed and precursor state separated by an entropy barrier-explain the anomalously high prefactors often observed in desorption of molecules from metals.