August 31, 2009

IBM scientists image molecule structure

IBM scientists in Switzerland say they've become the first researchers to obtain a high resolution image of the chemical structure of an individual molecule.

The scientists said they achieved the unprecedented resolution using non-contact atomic force microscopy, marking a milestone in surface microscopy and advancing exploration of electronic building blocks on the ultimate atomic and molecular scale.

Although progress has been made in the characterization of nanostructures on the atomic scale with atomic force microscopy, the scientists said imaging the chemical structure of an entire molecule has never been achieved with atomic resolution.

IBM scientists Leo Gross, Fabian Mohn, Nikolaj Moll and Gerhard Meyer, in collaboration with Peter Liljeroth of Utrecht University, used an atomic force microscope in an ultrahigh vacuum and at very low temperatures to capture individual hydrocarbon molecules. The scientists said they were able to look through the electron cloud and see the atomic backbone of an individual molecule for the first time.

Scanning probe techniques offer amazing potential for building prototypes of complex functional structures and for tailoring and studying their electronic and chemical properties on the atomic scale, said Meyer, who leads the scanning tunneling and atomic force microscopy at IBM research facilities in Zurich, Switzerland.

The researchers said their findings, reported in Science magazine, will open new possibilities for investigating how charge propagates through molecules or molecular networks.