MUNICH, Germany Scientists at IBMs Zurich laboratory have succeeded to visualize the structure of an individual molecule using non-contact atomic force microscopy (AFM). The move is a further step to a still very distant future: Molecular electronics.
The Zurich team succeeded to depict the chemical structure of pentacene molecule while looking through the electron cloud and focusing on the molecular backbone of the molecules. The experiment has been conducted at a very low temperature of 5 Kelvin.
When combined with another successful experiment at the same lab conducted earlier this year, the scientists get the possibility to investigate how electric charges propagate through molecules or molecule networks.
In the other experiment, the scientists succeeded in controlling the charge of single atoms. "This means we can charge atoms electrically and measure their status also using AFM," explained researcher Leo Gross. "Our next step will be to connect single atoms or clusters of atoms to a single molecule or to a molecule chain and charge them up. Then it perhaps will be possible to investigate how the charge distribution propagates depending on the position of a molecular switch."
The sticking point in the Zurich experiment was to create a planar molecular structure this is the precondition to measure and thus visualize the status of the molecule, Gross explained.
In any case, the Zurich research is associated to basic research and far from being usable for any practical applications, Gross pointed out. While these experiments aim at developing a post-silicon electronic technology, industrial results cannot be expected anytime soon. "It will take at least 15 years to see molecular electronic applications", he said. "And it is by no means certain that we will succeed".
Related links and articles:
IBM, Zurich university build joint nanotech lab
SRC, NSF gains funding for post-CMOS era