French researchers have found a new way to split up the two nitrogen atoms using a single tantalum atom as the activator. Chemists Jean-Marie Basset, Alessandra Quadrelli, and Mostafa Taoufik at the University of Lyon and their colleagues in Lyon and at the University of Montpellier report the stoichiometric cleavage and subsequent hydrogenation of N2 on silica-supported tantalum hydride, using N2 and H2 gas as starting materials. Much of the activation to make ammonia in the past has relied on a multiple-metal-atom surface. The researchers can activate a dinitrogen molecule with just one metal atom. This new mechanism for splitting triply bonded N2 is a significant and exciting advance. Findings such as these inspire chemists to search for new ways to utilize atmospheric nitrogen as a reagent for the synthesis of commodity and fine chemicals. Basset's team is now working on making the reaction catalytic instead of stoichiometric. They are thinking about the variety of other reactions that might be catalyzed with their tantalum hydride center.