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Seeing Atomic Bonds Before and After Reactions 47

Necroloth sends this quote from an article at Wired: "For the first time, scientists have visually captured a molecule at single-atom resolution in the act of rearranging its bonds. Until now, scientists were only able to infer molecular structures. Using atomic force microscopy (abstract), the individual atomic bonds that connect the carbon molecule's 26 carbon and 14 hydrogen atoms are clearly visible and look startlingly similar to the stick diagrams in chemistry textbooks."
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Seeing Atomic Bonds Before and After Reactions

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  • by Striikerr ( 798526 ) on Friday May 31, 2013 @11:39AM (#43873401)

    I remember so many years of visualizing the molecule structures in school and learning how and why the atoms arrange themselves in molecules. The diagrams drawn and the physical models helped but always the thought of (Camelot)"It's just a model." (/Camelot) was there. Seeing the images created of these molecules by something actually measuring them was pretty damn cool and shows us just how accurate those models are. The technology which allows us to obtain these images is always pretty amazing too. To obtain these images .. "Non-contact atomic force microscopy uses a very fine, sharp point to read the electrical forces produced by molecules; as the tip is moved near a molecule’s surface, it’s deflected by different charges, producing an image of how the atoms and bonds are aligned."

    So, it's in a way, similar to old record players where the stylus drags across the surface of an album and through the physical interactions with the play surface, converts the grooves and ridges to sound.. The stylus used in the article to measure the layout of the atomic forces is one atom thick at the end and is deflected by the forces which allows the generation of an image (it never physically touches anything).. All very cool stuff.

    • I'm just very impressed that people were able to infer the structures of these molecules indirectly without ever being to see them directly.

    • Just imagine a scientist going "nobody move! I've dropped the stylus"
      • by rwa2 ( 4391 ) *

        I imagine the scientist comforting the molecules... "don't worry, you're just going to feel a tiny prick!"

        J/K, I'm sure all the researches have big brass ones. Bravo!

    • Very neat stuff, indeed. I recall chem classes in early '60s where we were introduced to trying to calculate bonding energies in single and double bonds, then on to forces in crystals. Along the way, many of us thought "gee, wouldn't in be neat if we could not only see the bonds but measure them as well?" To see this, and the work leading up to it over the years, has amazed me.

      Given the number of times I played some of my LPs, would have been good to have had a no-contact stylus.

      • by drkim ( 1559875 )

        Given the number of times I played some of my LPs, would have been good to have had a no-contact stylus.

        That would be awesome! Maybe you could use a laser to read the music data off the spinning disk. I guess instead of grooves, you could encode the music with little 'dots' to represent...
        oh, never mind...

        • Gotcha, and the wry sarcasm, and got a nice laugh; I thank you. I wonder, tho, if there's a nifty way to read old LPs with no contact. I might have missed it. Do you know?

          • You could get a ELP Laser Turntable [] but it would probably be cheaper to get the original artists to reform and perform live in your home.

            • Wow, that's one fine piece of equipment! Also twice my annual income. Thanks for finding it.

              "cheaper to get the original artists to reform and perform live in your home."

              Um, no, especially when you add in transpo, accomodations, consumables. For a lot of it, it wouldn't work anyway, too many of 'em are indisposed or dead.

  • by girlinatrainingbra ( 2738457 ) on Friday May 31, 2013 @11:40AM (#43873419)

    Atomic Force Microscopy [] does not visually capture anything. It measures atomic forces with a finer resolution that goes beyond the optical diffraction limit for wavelengths of light visible to the unaided eye.

    The rendered images are derived from the force measurements and thus these really are "inferred images" or visual renderings of force measurements. These are definitely not "visual capture" images. These are visual renderings.

  • That's awesome, but a little bit of a letdown after I'd misread "bonds" as "bombs".
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I didn't think there'd be much of an atomic bomb left to see after a reaction.

    • by sconeu ( 64226 )

      [AOL] Me Too! [/AOL]

      On the other hand... "My name is Bonds... Atomic Bonds..."

  • by cruff ( 171569 ) on Friday May 31, 2013 @11:57AM (#43873659) Homepage
    The article says the pictures are from before the reaction (by heating), and after showing various reaction products, including ones not expected. The AFM is too slow to capture the bond rearrangements.
  • I can't wait until some new rules derived from first principles are wrung out of this data.
  • ...look startlingly similar to the stick diagrams in chemistry textbooks.

    Yeah, well, applied physics has a history of looking very much as we imagined it would in almost every case where there have been questions. Begging the question; "Are we really looking at reality, or stuff we want to see?"

  • Did anyone else misread the title and think of melting faces?
  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Friday May 31, 2013 @12:18PM (#43873923)

    Extend this technology to 3D and it will have some interesting uses for things like protein folding.

  • I wonder if the same imaging is possible in 3d, that would be really awesome in research.

  • Reminds me of old-time television cameras, from the 1950s and early 1960s, with the bright objects surrounded by a halo of dark.

  • by minkwe ( 222331 ) on Friday May 31, 2013 @06:06PM (#43878449) Journal

    We've been seeing things like and many orders of magnitude more complex that this using Crystallography for more than a hundred years. Google "electron density maps" and check out some of the pictures in 3D. Then head over to the Protein Data Bank to see atomic resolution molecular structures determined using crystallography for more than 80,000 protein, nucleic acids (DNA, RNA) and carbohydrates. Even the Ribosome structure has been determined all in 3D. What they have here is a force map which is even more indirect than the electron density and these molecules are "nano-dwarfed" by the sheer complexity and size of molecules whose structures are already available by crystallography.

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