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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Small, highly charged liquid droplets are unstable with respect to spontaneous charge separation when their size drops below the Rayleigh limit or, in other words, their fissility parameter X exceeds the value 1. The absence of small doubly charged atomic cluster ions in mass spectra below an element-specific appearance size na has sometimes been attributed to the onset of barrierless fission at X = 1. However, more realistic models suggest that na marks the size below which the rate of fission surpasses that of competing dissociative channels, and the Rayleigh limit of doubly charged van der Waals clusters has remained unchartered. Here we explore a novel approach to form small dicationic clusters, namely by Penning ionization of singly charged noble gas (Ng) clusters that are embedded in helium nanodroplets; the dications are then gently extracted from the nanodroplets by low-energy collisions with helium gas. We observe Ngn2+ ions that are about 40 % smaller than previously reported for xenon and krypton and about 20 % for argon. These findings suggest that fission barriers have been underestimated in previous theoretical work. Furthermore, we measure the size distributions of fragment ions that are produced by collisional excitation of mass-selected dications. At lowest collision gas pressure, dicationic Kr and Xe clusters that are smaller than previously observed are found to evaporate an atom before they undergo highly symmetric fission. The distribution of fragments resulting from fission of small dicationic Ar clusters is bimodal.



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Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys.




Royal Society of Chemistry

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This article is part of the Themed Collection Size effects in chemistry & physics of atomic & molecular clusters, nanoparticles & nanostructures