Evolution of Metastable Structures in Bimetallic Surfaces from Microscopy and Machine-Learning Molecular Dynamics

Restructuring of interface plays a crucial role in materials science and heterogeneous catalysis. Bimetallic systems, in particular, often adopt very different composition and morphology at surfaces compared to the bulk. For the first time, we reveal a detailed atomistic picture of the long-timescale restructuring of Pd deposited on Ag, using microscopy, spectroscopy, and novel simulation methods. Encapsulation of Pd by Ag always precedes layer-by-layer dissolution of Pd, resulting in significant Ag migration out of the surface and extensive vacancy pits. These metastable structures are of vital catalytic importance, as Ag-encapsulated Pd remains much more accessible to reactants than bulk-dissolved Pd. The underlying mechanisms are uncovered by performing fast and large-scale machine-learning molecular dynamics, followed by our newly developed method for complete characterization of atomic surface restructuring events. Our approach is broadly applicable to other multimetallic systems of interest and enables the previously impractical mechanistic investigation of restructuring dynamics.