Achieving control of the nanoscale structure of binary alloys is of paramount importance for the design of novel materials with specific properties, leading to, for example, improved reaction rates and selectivity in catalysis, tailored magnetic behavior in electronics, and controlled growth of nanostructured materials such as graphene. By means of a combined experimental and theoretical approach, we show that the complex self-diffusion mechanisms determining these key properties can be mostly defined by kinetic rather than energetic effects. We explain how in the Ni–Cu system nanoscale control of self-diffusion and segregation processes close to the surface can be achieved by finely tuning the relative concentration of the alloy constituents. This allows tailoring the material functionality and provides a clear explanation of previously observed effects involved, for example, in the growth of graphene films and in the catalytic reduction of carbon dioxide

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