We’ve come a long way from the first glass-and-light optical microscopes. These days, scientists can focus on individual molecules using advanced methods like atomic force microscopy (AFM), where a miniscule probe feels out the details of a surface. And in this AFM image of a nanographene molecule, the resolution is so high that for the first time, we can see the individual bonds between atoms, shown here as green lines.
In a new paper in the journal Science, IBM researchers used the same imaging technique to measure the length and relative strength of individual bonds in the spherical carbon molecules called buckyballs. Their method can not only improve our intimate understanding of these and other molecules—it also lets us get up close and personal with the building blocks of all matter.
Image courtesy of IBM Research – Zurich / Flickr
Using an exquisitely sensitive probe, scientists at IBM have succeeded in making an image of where a single molecule’s positive and negative charges lie. The molecule in question is X-shaped naphthalocyanine, which can switch back and forth between two different configurations when voltage is applied to it, and which IBM has used in its research into tiny logic switches. It was this shift and its accompanying change in the distribution of the molecule’s charge that the researchers chose to investigate. In the image above, red indicates where the electrical field between the probe and molecule was positive, and blue indicates negative. As scientists and engineers look into building molecule-sized transistors and other electronic devices, being able to detect exactly where a molecule’s charge is and how chemical reactions change it will be invaluable.
Image courtesy of IBM Research