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Optimizing interfacial contacts and thus electron transfer phenomena in heterogeneous electrocatalysts is an effective approach for enhancing electrocatalytic performance. Herein, we successfully synthesized ultrafine β-Mo2C nanoparticles confined within hollow capsules of nitrogen-doped porous carbon (β-Mo2C@NPCC) and found that the surface layer of molybdenum atoms was further oxidized to a single Mo–O surface layer, thus producing intimate O–Mo–C interfaces. An arsenal of complementary technologies, including XPS, atomic-resolution HAADF-STEM, and XAS analysis clearly reveals the existence of O–Mo–C interfaces for these surface-engineered ultrafine nanostructures. The β-Mo2C@NPCC electrocatalyst exhibited excellent electrocatalytic activity for the hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) in water. Theoretical studies indicate that the highly accessible ultrathin O–Mo–C interfaces serving as the active sites are crucial to the HER performance and underpinned the outstanding electrocatalytic performance of β-Mo2C@NPCC. This proof-of-concept study opens a new avenue for the fabrication of highly efficient catalysts for HER and other applications, whilst further demonstrating the importance of exposed interfaces and interfacial contacts in efficient electrocatalysis.

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Chemical Science, v. 11, p. 3523-3530