IBM scientists first to ‘x-ray’ the molecule

28 Aug 2009

In a similar way to how doctors image bones by running an x-ray of the internal structure, IBM scientists have pushed the limits of nanotechnology by using an atomic force microscope (AFM) to ‘see’ the anatomy of the molecule.

Zurich scientists at IBM Research – Leo Gross, Fabian Mohn, Nikolaj Moll and Gerhard Meyer – in collaboration with Peter Liljeroth of Utrecht University, have achieved a world first by essentially creating an image of a molecule that resembles the simulated structures drawn in chemistry textbooks.

“Though not an exact comparison, if you think about how a doctor uses an x-ray to image bones and organs inside the human body, we are using the atomic force microscope to image the atomic structures that are the backbones of individual molecules,” said IBM Researcher Gerhard Meyer.

“Scanning probe techniques offer amazing potential for prototyping complex functional structures and for tailoring and studying their electronic and chemical properties on the atomic scale.”

The AFM uses a sharp metal tip to measure the tiny forces between the tip and the sample molecule, which in this case was pentacene, to create a 3D image.

This advancement in nanotechnology means understanding the charge distribution at the atomic scale and this is vital for building smaller, faster and more energy-efficient computing components than the processors we have today.
By Marie Boran