X-ray absorption fine structure (XAFS) spectroscopy probes the structure and electronic properties of metal centers. Because it can be applied to noncrystalline materials, it is a key technique for probing nanoparticulate materials, such as colloidal and heterogeneous metal catalysts. The high brilliance of modern synchrotron radiation x-ray sources facilitates in situ studies, which provide direct structure–function relationships with both spatial and time resolution; this is especially effective when applied in combination with complementary techniques such as x-ray diffraction, mass spectrometry, and optical or vibrational spectroscopies. Tracking the particle formation of platinum-group metal catalysts, their behavior under reaction conditions, and the distribution of sites within a catalyst bed shows that this approach is essential for understanding the chemistry of these nanoparticles. Rather than behave as monolithic entities, nanoparticulate catalysts undergo rapid structural transformations induced by the gas environment and reaction conditions, and their lifetimes as catalysts depend on the reversibility of these changes.