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IBM Science

IBM Images a Single Molecule 169

Posted by kdawson
from the blow-it-up dept.
chrb writes "New Scientist is reporting that researchers at IBM Zurich have managed to image a single molecule in detail for the first time. In the images of a pentacene molecule, the bonds between the carbon atoms are visible as five linked rings."
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IBM Images a Single Molecule

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  • So if the Pantacene is made of Benzene and the Benzene is C6H6, what is that gray flat smooth material that the molecules are sitting on top of in the second picture? Is this simply due to a focus so incredibly tuned that you can't see past the Pentacene molecules? I would expect that to be a field of bumps and crazy random shapes because it has to be made of some molecule or atom, right? How would they finish the slide/table/surface of that so accurately? I'm used to seeing that when you see bacteria or viruses with an electron microscope, what is in effect here that we don't see an alien landscape back-dropping these molecules? I'm not calling into question the authenticity of the image, just curious if anyone knows.
  • by mastahYee (1588623) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:00AM (#29230273) Homepage

    This image isn't from an electron microscope, it uses AFM (atomic force microscopy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomic_force_microscope [wikipedia.org]), which actually touches the molecules with its tip. In this case though, they bonded a single carbon monoxoide molecule to the AFM cantilever so that it would only interact with the oxygen atoms on the pentacene molecule. I imagine it didn't image the substrate at all because of that

    It doesn't actually touch the molecules, because weak force cancels out the attraction. That's kind of a key point here because touching it was too destructive to get these images in the first place.

  • by UnHolier than ever (803328) <unholy_&hotmail,com> on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:03AM (#29230315)
    An AFM image will often look like it has a shadow. In that case, the tip was probably scanning from the right, and it "bounced" after being raised by the pentacene. The shadow size is related to the tip speed as much as the molecule height.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:09AM (#29230385)

    They're not similar in the least. Your examples use lattices, which are more stable than individual molecules. RTFA already.

    (inb4 "rtfa? you must be new here")

  • by MadAnalyst (959778) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:12AM (#29230421)
    A lot of microscopy like this will be done using very carefully prepared atomically smooth surfaces [omicron.de]. A good example would be Cu(111) [ibm.com]. I haven't' dug in, but they might also work with something akin to the "depth of field" in optical work to largely exclude the effect of the background.
  • Simply Awesome (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gpronger (1142181) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:49AM (#29230927) Journal
    I likely would have had this post up about 20 earlier, but I've just managed to pick myself off the floor after taking a look at the photo. As a chemist, I personally find the verification of theory a significant milestone in our understanding. It's one thing to have a theory, and then through somewhat serendipitous means, verify the theory, but to have an actual photo, brings it to a new level.

    Greg

    Yes, I do have a life outside the lab, but maybe not as much of one as I once thought.
  • by caffiend666 (598633) on Friday August 28, 2009 @11:20AM (#29231383) Homepage

    Don't forget, a good diamond is basically one big carbon molecule. A diamond's not only imageable, but you can feel/hold/interact with it.

  • by deathcow (455995) * on Friday August 28, 2009 @02:35PM (#29234139)

    45nm is 450 angstrom, so you can see by the 20 angstrom ruler in one of the pictures that chip design is getting pretty small. In fact, you can see the atoms lined up in the traces of chips!
    http://i.zdnet.com/blogs/afm-bpm-e-beam.jpg

  • by PCM2 (4486) on Friday August 28, 2009 @03:11PM (#29234705) Homepage

    I think I recall that there are lots of work that involve the spatial geometry of molecules.

    Yes. Elementary chemistry is pretty much just what is stuck to what, but once you get into organic chemistry, spatial geometry is pretty much half the class.

  • by Vitriol+Angst (458300) on Friday August 28, 2009 @03:39PM (#29235073)

    We take this model for granted. It's one thing for a handy, convenient model to hold Balls in place with sticks and the you connect your large blue Oxygen balls to the tiny Red hydrogen balls and call it a model.

    It's quite another that it's the actual, physical representation of it.

    We look at atoms and imagine electron shells -- that's really a domain that electrons spend their time in.

    However, physicists currently have this model of particles being particles. Now if a solid, frozen substance under the head of a pin, however, is detecting the structures of "most common region of covalent bonding" as actual "stick like" structures -- when in all rights, the interference of the probe should be pushing the electron around it -- then maybe we need to rethink this concept of particles.

    >> My own belief, and I'm likely to get slammed for this on Slashdot by folks who think about physics and chemistry all day -- is that EVERYTHING is a field. Particles are fields with pinpoint connections to other dimensions and that exhibit mass. But what you would expect, from a field, touching a field, is that the "domains" of the electron bonding, would appear solid.

    If you really think about it, the electron and proton in these pictures are so small, that the distance from the electron is as far from the proton vs. its size, that it would be like a period on this sentence on a football field.

    THAT any of these molecules is solid, means that the potential fields where the electron COULD BE, have some disruption on space, and that the patterns of force of the probe, interfere with the patterns of force on the studied atom.

    If Atoms were really very tiny particles, we would SOMETIMES see a structure and sometimes not -- because the probe's electron and the sampled atom's electron would not be occupying the same location most of the time.

    >> It's a bit like asking the basic question: Why are things opaque and why are they solid? Fields themselves are the only things that could be stopping the probe. And if physics recognizes the "strong and weak force" -- are those really propagated by particles, or is it a disturbance in space itself. I'm one of the anachronisms who still believes in the aether, I suppose -- think of Dark Matter, as the New Aether.

  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:49PM (#29239097) Homepage

    However, physicists currently have this model of particles being particles. Now if a solid, frozen substance under the head of a pin, however, is detecting the structures of "most common region of covalent bonding" as actual "stick like" structures -- when in all rights, the interference of the probe should be pushing the electron around it -- then maybe we need to rethink this concept of particles.

    My own belief, and I'm likely to get slammed for this on Slashdot by folks who think about physics and chemistry all day -- is that EVERYTHING is a field. Particles are fields with pinpoint connections to other dimensions and that exhibit mass. But what you would expect, from a field, touching a field, is that the "domains" of the electron bonding, would appear solid.

    If Atoms were really very tiny particles, we would SOMETIMES see a structure and sometimes not -- because the probe's electron and the sampled atom's electron would not be occupying the same location most of the time.

    I'm not going to tell you your belief isn't true. I mean, protons seem to have a "size" but they're made of quarks and who knows what smaller particles quarks may be made of and what binds them together. All I know is that matter is energy, so maybe "matter" is just some energy contained in a field that makes it act like a particle.

    The thing is, this image really doesn't help us distinguish. What we do know is that electrons and protons emit electric fields due to their charge, and it's the electrostatic force that the AFM is measuring. So the results are still consistent with a tiny particle that's flying around another particle, as is the van der Waals forces problem they had to work around. The force created when the probe's electron and the atom's electron are far away is enough to destroy the sample if they don't try to compensate for it, but at the same time the instrument isn't precise enough to measure that force occurring for the instant that it does. The average force over the interval that the probe is sensitive to looks like that in the photo, and as expected has a bright region of high probability of electron presence that fades off to less. So, this is not the proof you're looking for.

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