Disentangling the size-dependent redox reactivity of iron oxides using thermodynamic relationships

Gongde Chen, Aaron Thompson, Christopher A. Gorski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Nanoparticles often exhibit size-dependent redox reactivities, with smaller particles being more reactive in some cases, while less reactive in others. Predicting trends between redox reaction rates and particle sizes is often complicated because a particle’s dimensions can simultaneously influence its aggregation state, reactive surface area, and thermodynamic properties. Here, we tested the hypothesis that interfacial redox reaction rates for nanoparticles with different sizes can be described with a single linear free-energy relationship (LFER) if size-dependent reactive surface areas and thermodynamic properties are properly considered. We tested this hypothesis using a well-known interfacial redox reaction: the reduction of nitrobenzene to aniline by iron-oxide-bound Fe2+. We measured the reduction potential (EH) values of nano-particulate hematite suspensions containing aqueous Fe2+ using mediated potentiometry and characterized the size and aggregation states of hematite samples at circumneutral pH values. We used the measured EH values to calculate surface energies and reactive surface areas using thermodynamic relationships. Nitrobenzene reduction rates were lower for smaller particles, despite their larger surface areas, due to their higher surface energies. When differences in surface areas and thermodynamic properties were considered, nitrobenzene reduction kinetics for all particle sizes was described with a LFER. Our results demonstrate that when Fe2+ serves as a reductant, an antagonistic effect exists, with smaller particles having larger reactive surface areas but also more positive reduction potentials. When Fe3+ serves as an oxidant, however, these two effects work in concert, which likely explains past discrepancies regarding how iron oxide particle sizes influence redox reaction rates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2204673119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number40
StatePublished - Oct 4 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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