"Superatoms" of combined cheap elements mimic more "expensive" atoms

Castleman realizes an 'alchemist's dream'

A. Welford (Will) Castleman Jr. joined the Penn State chemistry department in 1982. Castleman is perhaps best known for discovering conditions where a “columbic explosion” induced clusters of atoms that mimicking some of the properties of other elements. These “superatoms” of lower-cost elements such as oxygen and carbon have the electronic signal of atoms from a more expensive element, mimic elements such as gold, platinum, and palladium. These superatom clusters could serve as building blocks for materials that are cheaper and more effective as catalysts, replacing catalysts made of more expensive materials such as gold, platinum, and palladium. This is a process that is reminiscent of the quest by ancient alchemists to turn lead into gold.

Another major breakthrough by Castleman was the discovery of a new family of materials known as metallocarbohedrynes or “met-cars.” These materials have intriguing properties that make them of interest as catalysts, superconductors, and quantum dots. His research achievements earned him the title of Evan Pugh Professor of Chemistry and Physics, and he also was holder of the Eberly Family Distinguished Chair of Science. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the New York Academy of Sciences, and the Royal Society of Chemistry.