Past, present, and future of the H + H2 reaction

PHYS 148

Richard N. Zare, zare@stanford.edu, Department of Chemistry, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-5080
The reaction of a hydrogen atom with a hydrogen molecule is considered the simplest of all neutral bimolecular reactions because it has only three electrons, which allows the potential energy surface and the dynamics that takes place upon it to be calculated in a fully quantum mechanical manner to high accuracy. In spite of its seeming theoretical simplicity, the study of such a reaction system is experimentally challenging because H atoms are not a chemically stable reagent and the detection of reaction products is frustrated by a small cross section and the difficulty of detecting the reaction products by optical or mass spectrometric means. In the short time allowed for this presentation, I will try to summarize some past successes and indicate future directions, with an emphasis on the types of information and insights we learn from this process that we can apply to other reaction systems.