Discriminating Chemical Bonds

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Science  14 Sep 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6100, pp. 1305-1306
DOI: 10.1126/science.1227726

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Recently developed operation modes for the atomic force microscope (AFM)—in particular, frequency modulation AFM (FM-AFM) (1)—have made it possible to image, manipulate (2), and chemically identify (3) both conducting and insulating surfaces (4) with atomic-scale resolution. On page 1326 of this issue, Gross et al. (5) push the limits of the imaging capabilities of AFM still further by using a functionalized tip—a metal tip with a carbon monoxide (CO) molecule at the apex—to map the subtle differences in charge density and bond length associated with nonequivalent C-C bonds in three complex molecular systems, and to correlate them with their bond order. The ability to determine fundamental properties of individual chemical bonds could affect many technologically relevant fields such as catalysis, photovoltaics, and molecular electronics.