Quantifying Molecular Stiffness and Interaction with Lateral Force Microscopy

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Science  06 Feb 2014:
DOI: 10.1126/science.1249502

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The spatial resolution of atomic force microscopy (AFM) can be drastically increased by terminating the tip with a single CO molecule. However, the CO molecule is not stiff, and lateral forces, such as those around the sides of molecules, distort images. This issue begs a larger question of how AFM can probe structures that are laterally weak. Lateral force microscopy (LFM) can probe lateral stiffnesses that are not accessible to normal-force AFM, resulting in higher spatial resolution. With LFM, we determined the torsional spring constant of a CO-terminated tip molecule to be 0.24 N/m. This value is less than that of a surface molecule, and an example of a system whose stiffness is a product not only of bonding partners but also local environment.

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