IBM scientists have been able to image the “anatomy”—or chemical structure—inside a molecule with unprecedented resolution, using a complex technique known as noncontact atomic force microscopy (AFM).
The results push the exploration of using molecules and atoms at the smallest scale and could greatly impact the field of nanotechnology, which seeks to understand and control some of the smallest objects know to mankind.
As reported in the August 28 issue of Science magazine, IBM Research – Zurich scientists Leo Gross, Fabian Mohn, Nikolaj Moll and Gerhard Meyer, in collaboration with Peter Liljeroth of Utrecht University, used an AFM operated in an ultrahigh vacuum and at very low temperatures (–268°C or – 451°F) to image the chemical structure of individual pentacene molecules. With their AFM, the IBM scientists, for the first time ever, were able to look through the electron cloud and see the atomic backbone of an individual molecule. While not a direct technological comparison, this is reminiscent of X-rays that pass through soft tissue to enable clear images of bones.
Gross L, Mohn F, Moll N, Liljeroth P, and Meyer G, (2009): The Chemical Structure of a Molecule Resolved by Atomic Force Microscopy, Science, Vol. 325, Issue 5944, pp. 1110 – 1114 (28 August 2009).