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All previous experimental and theoretical studies of molecular interactions at metal surfaces show that electronically nonadiabatic influences increase with molecular velocity. We report the observation of a nonadiabatic electronic effect that follows the opposite trend: The probability of electron emission from a low–work function surface—Au(111) capped by half a monolayer of Cs—increases as the velocity of the incident NO molecule decreases during collisions with highly vibrationally excited NO(X2π½, V = 18; V is the vibrational quantum number of NO), reaching 0.1 at the lowest velocity studied. We show that these results are consistent with a vibrational autodetachment mechanism, whereby electron emission is possible only beyond a certain critical distance from the surface. This outcome implies that important energy-dissipation pathways involving nonadiabatic electronic excitations and, furthermore, not captured by present theoretical methods may influence reaction rates at surfaces.


This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Science, volume 321, in 2008 following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version is available online at DOI: 10.1126/science.1160040.

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