Real-time imaging of adatom-promoted graphene growth on nickel

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Science  16 Mar 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6381, pp. 1243-1246
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan8782

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Watching graphene grow

The growth of graphene on metal surfaces can be catalyzed by mobile surface metal atoms. Patera et al. used a high-speed scanning tunneling microscope to image the growth of graphene islands on a nickel surface. High temperatures caused carbon to diffuse to the surface, where mobile nickel atoms catalyzed graphene growth on the edges of islands. Molecular dynamics and density functional theory calculations provide mechanistic insights into the reaction steps.

Science, this issue p. 1243


Single adatoms are expected to participate in many processes occurring at solid surfaces, such as the growth of graphene on metals. We demonstrate, both experimentally and theoretically, the catalytic role played by single metal adatoms during the technologically relevant process of graphene growth on nickel (Ni). The catalytic action of individual Ni atoms at the edges of a growing graphene flake was directly captured by scanning tunneling microscopy imaging at the millisecond time scale, while force field molecular dynamics and density functional theory calculations rationalize the experimental observations. Our results unveil the mechanism governing the activity of a single-atom catalyst at work.

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