Atomically dispersed supported metal catalysts offer new properties and the benefits of maximized metal accessibility and utilization. The characterization of these materials, however, remains challenging. Using atomically-dispersed Pt supported on crystalline MgO (chosen for its well-defined bonding sites for Pt) as a prototypical example, in this work, we demonstrate how systematic density functional theory calculations (for assessing all the potentially stable Pt sites) combined with automated EXAFS analysis can lead to unbiased identification of isolated, surface-enveloped platinum cations as the catalytic species for CO oxidation. The catalyst has been characterized by atomic-resolution imaging, EXAFS, and HERFD-XANES spectroscopies; the proposed Pt site are in full agreement with experiment. This theory-guided workflow leads to rigorously determined structural models and provides a more detailed picture of the structure of the catalytically active sites than what is currently possible with conventional EXAFS analysis. As this approach is efficient and agnostic to the metal, support, and catalytic reaction, we posit that it will be of broad interest to the materials characterization and catalysis communities.
Supporting information including details of the EXAFS fits, scoring metrics, more details on the thermochemistry, and detailed plots of the HERFD simulations.