ZURICH, Feb. 27, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- IBM (NYSE: IBM) scientists were able to measure for the first time how charge is distributed within a single molecule. This breakthrough will enable fundamental scientific insights into single-molecule switching and bond formation between atoms and molecules. The ability to image the charge distribution within functional molecular structures holds great promise for future applications such as solar photoconversion, energy storage, or molecular scale computing devices.
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As reported recently in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, scientists Fabian Mohn, Leo Gross, Nikolaj Moll and Gerhard Meyer of IBM Research succeeded in imaging the charge distribution within a single molecule by using a special kind of atomic force microscopy called Kelvin probe force microscopy at low temperatures and in ultrahigh vacuum.
"This work demonstrates an important new capability of being able to directly measure how charge arranges itself within an individual molecule," states Michael Crommie, Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley. "Understanding this kind of charge distribution is critical for understanding how molecules work in different environments. I expect this technique to have an especially important future impact on the many areas where physics, chemistry, and biology intersect."
The new technique provides complementary information about the molecule, showing different properties of interest. This is reminiscent of medical imaging techniques such as X-ray, MRI, or ultrasonography, which yield complementary information about a person's anatomy and health condition.
The discovery could be used to study charge separation and charge transport in so-called charge-transfer complexes. These consist of two or more molecules and hold tremendous promise for applications such as computing, energy storage or photovoltaics. In particular, the technique could contribute to the design of molecular-sized transistors that enable more energy efficient computing devices ranging from sensors to mobile phones to supercomputers.
"This technique provides another channel of information that will further our understanding of nanoscale physics.