IBM scientists first distinguish individual molecular bonds

IBM scientists first to distinguish individual molecular bonds

6:21 AM, 22nd September 2012
IBM scientists first to distinguish individual molecular bonds

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND: IBM scientists have been able to differentiate the chemical bonds in individual molecules for the first time using a technique known as noncontact atomic force microscopy (AFM).

The results push the exploration of using molecules and atoms at the smallest scale and could be important for studying graphene devices, which are currently being explored by both industry and academia for applications including high-bandwidth wireless communication and electronic displays.

“We found two different contrast mechanisms to distinguish bonds. The first one is based on small differences in the force measured above the bonds. We expected this kind of contrast but it was a challenge to resolve,” said Leo Gross, Scientist, IBM.

“The second contrast mechanism really came as a surprise: Bonds appeared with different lengths in AFM measurements. With the help of ab initio calculations we found that the tilting of the carbon monoxide molecule at the tip apex is the cause of this contrast.”

As reported in the cover story of the September 14th issue of Science magazine, IBM Research scientists imaged the bond order and length of individual carbon-carbon bonds in C60, also known as a buckyball for its football shape and two planar polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which resemble small flakes of grapheme. The PAHs were synthesized by Centro de Investigacion en Quimica Bioloxica e Materiais Moleculares (CIQUS) at the Universidade de Santiago de Compostela and Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Toulouse.

The individual bonds between carbon atoms in such molecules differ subtly in their length and strength. All the important chemical, electronic and optical properties of such molecules are related to the differences of bonds in the polyaromatic systems. Now, for the first time, these differences were detected for both individual molecules and bonds. In particular, the relaxation of bonds around defects in graphene as well as the changing of bonds in chemical reactions and in excited states could potentially be studied.

As in their earlier research (Science 2009, 325, 1110) the IBM scientists used an atomic force microscope (AFM) with a tip that is terminated with a single carbon monoxide (CO) molecule. This made it possible to distinguish individual bonds that differ only by 3 picometre or 3 × 10-12 metre, which is about one-hundredth of an atom’s diametre.

In previous research the team succeeded in imaging the chemical structure of a molecule, but not the subtle differences of the bonds. To corroborate the experimental findings and gain further insight into the exact nature of the contrast mechanisms, the team performed first-principles density functional theory calculations.

This research was funded within the framework of several European projects including ARTIST, HERODOT, CEMAS, the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness and the Regional Government of Galicia.

Scientists have been striving to “see” and manipulate atoms and molecules to extend human knowledge and push the frontiers of manufacturing capabilities to the nanometre regime. A new facility for world-class collaborative nanoscale research, the Binnig and Rohrer Nanotechnology Centre was opened last year on the campus of IBM Research - Zurich. The centre is part of a strategic partnership in nanotechnology with ETH Zurich, one of Europe’s premier technical universities.

© IBM News

 

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