To Image the “Anatomy” of a Molecule

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.

Original publication:
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).

http://www.zurich.ibm.com

The delicate inner structure of a pentacene molecule imaged with an atomic force microscope. For the first time, scientists achieved a resolution that revealed the chemical structure of a molecule. The hexagonal shapes of the five carbon rings in the pentacene molecule are clearly resolved. Even the positions of the hydrogen atoms around the carbon rings can be deduced from the image. (Pixels correspond to actual data points). Source: IBM Research – Zurich

The delicate inner structure of a pentacene molecule imaged with an atomic force microscope. For the first time, scientists achieved a resolution that revealed the chemical structure of a molecule. The hexagonal shapes of the five carbon rings in the pentacene molecule are clearly resolved. Even the positions of the hydrogen atoms around the carbon rings can be deduced from the image. (Pixels correspond to actual data points). Source: IBM Research – Zurich

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