Catalysts are very useful tools in chemistry as they enable reactions to happen more quickly and more efficiently. This is why we see them in a myriad of products, including the catalytic converter of automobiles. Now researchers at Northwestern University and Argonne National Laboratory have found a way to make catalysts even more efficient by adding a sieving layer.
While different catalysts affect different reactions, they are not choosy about which reactions they do catalyze, if able to. That means that if you want reaction A to happen, but the catalyst can enhance reactions A and B, then it will catalyze both A and B. This has the potential to impair the catalyst's performance, which is why researchers are trying to make them more selective, which these researchers have achieved by adding a film that blocks certain reactions. By putting nanoscale holes into the film, only certain chemical can get through to react with the catalyst, which improved its efficiency.
This improvement of selectivity does more than just improve efficiency as it can allow the reaction to occur without precious metals or hazardous oxidants. In fact the tests the researchers did were completed at room temperature and with only a low-power light source to stimulate the reaction.