First 3-D Image of Molecular Bonds


Researchers for IBM Zurich used an atomic force microscope to map out the above hydrogen molecule’s structure, which “could help in the design of many things on the molecular scale.”  Many things! Like electronics or even drugs.

The measurement requires extremes of precision. In order to avoid the effects of stray gas molecules bounding around, or the general atomic-scale jiggling that room-temperature objects experience, the whole setup has to be kept under high vacuum and at blisteringly cold temperatures.

However, the tip of the AFM’s prong is not well-defined and isn’t necessarily sharp on the scale of single atoms. The effect of this bluntness is to blur the instrument’s images.

The researchers have now hit on the idea of deliberately picking up just one small molecule – made of one atom of carbon and one of oxygen – with the AFM tip, forming the sharpest, most well-defined tip possible.

Their measurement of a pentacene molecule using this carbon monoxide tip shows the bonds between the carbon atoms in five linked rings, and even suggests the bonds to the hydrogen atoms at the molecule’s periphery.

So what did you do today?

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