Scientific Breakthrough
TACO Group Finds Pulled Pork Tacos to Be Catalytically Active

Scientific Breakthrough

TACO Group Finds Pulled Pork Tacos to Be Catalytically Active

Scientists of the SFB TACO have made a surprising scientific breakthrough: during routine measurements they found tacos to be great catalysts for CO oxidation.

Figure 1
Left: A preliminary activity map – the areas around the simulated pork and the onions display increased activity, while corn and salad do not appear to have a big influence. Right: Representation of the unit taco (with 12 grid points and 4 different taco fillings) used in the calculations.

In the subproject P10, the groups of Karin Föttinger and Christoph Rameshan work on catalysis on iron-oxide spinels and recently have made quite a surprising discovery: “During the preparation of a catalytic test, a PhD student dropped part of his lunch on the sample and ran the experiment anyway,” explains Professor Föttinger. “In a truly happy little accident1, the activity results found were significantly improved compared to samples without tacos.” After this astonishing first results, an extensive set of catalytic tests is planned to investigate influences of condiments, vegetables, and different types of tortillas and meat.

The theoreticians of TACO are already hard at work to gain more insights into this surprising phenomenon on a mechanistic level. “I have our PhD students run what we now call ‘Kentucky-Fried’ simulations2 basically around the clock,” says Jesús Carrete, co-PI of subproject P09. “Preliminary results [which can be seen in Figure 1] indicate that corn does not play a significant role; however, onions seem to have an effect. We are currently looking into possible differences between red onions and shallots.”

Figure 2
PhD student Alexander Imre trying to solve the problem of how to load a taco sample into the scanning tunnelling microscope.

Surface science experiments to get more detailed information about the morphology of the tacos used in the catalytic tests are planned as well but have been running into serious problems with loading the samples into the sample analysis chamber of the scanning tunnelling / atomic force microscope. As Alexander Imre, a PhD student of P02 seen in Figure 2, explains, “the tortilla is completely fine because of its low vapour pressure. The non-meat ingredients are a different deal, though. The tomatoes immediately explode upon pressure reduction and the cheese seriously clogs the turbo pumps.” Solutions for these problems are currently being developed since a thorough characterisation of the tacos is paramount.

These exciting new results open a whole new field of food-related catalysis that can be explored further.

1 An expression coined by Bob Ross.
2 A version of Monte-Carlo simulations.