In an amazing work of microscopy, scientists have gotten a high-resolution view of a molecule and its chemical bonds. What’s more, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers got a peek at the molecule as it broke and reformed bonds after undergoing a chemical reaction.
Their images show a molecule, on the left above, which has 26 carbon and 14 hydrogen atoms structured as three connected benzene rings. The molecules on the right are the two most common products that result after the molecule is heated to 90 degrees Celsius.
Each molecule is about a billionth of a meter across and was seen using a technique called noncontact atomic force microscopy (AFM), which probes the surface with a sharp tip. “A carbon monoxide molecule adsorbed onto the tip of the AFM needle leaves a single oxygen atom as the probe,” said Felix Fischer, a Berkeley Lab chemist. “Moving this atomic finger back and forth over the silver surface is like reading Braille, as if we were feeling the small atomic-scale bumps made by the atoms.”
The detail they were able to resolve directly showed the molecule’s structure like a chemistry student would see in a textbook’s diagram of it, except these are direct observations.
“What you see is what you have – the effects of the electron forces among the atoms, and even the bond order,” said Fischer. “You can distinguish single, double and triple bonds.”
They say their results will help in the pursuit to build advanced nanoscale electronic devices from the bottom up.