Chemical bond formation showing a transition from physisorption to chemisorption

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Science  11 Oct 2019:
Vol. 366, Issue 6462, pp. 235-238
DOI: 10.1126/science.aay3444

Imaging a chemisorption process

At low temperatures, a molecule may adsorb to a surface only through weak forces (physisorption), and only upon heating and overcoming an energetic barrier does it form a strong covalent bond (chemisorption). Huber et al. imaged this transition for an atomic force microscopy tip terminating in a carbon monoxide molecule. Although the oxygen atom of the tip is normally considered to act like a rare gas atom, interacting only through van der Waals interactions, at short distances directly above a transition metal atom, it transitions to a strongly interacting chemisorption state.

Science, this issue p. 235


Surface molecules can transition from physisorption through weak van der Waals forces to a strongly bound chemisorption state by overcoming an energy barrier. We show that a carbon monoxide (CO) molecule adsorbed to the tip of an atomic force microscope enables a controlled observation of bond formation, including its potential transition from physisorption to chemisorption. During imaging of copper (Cu) and iron (Fe) adatoms on a Cu(111) surface, the CO was not chemically inert but transited through a physisorbed local energy minimum into a chemisorbed global minimum, and an energy barrier was seen for the Fe adatom. Density functional theory reveals that the transition occurs through a hybridization of the electronic states of the CO molecule mainly with s-, pz-, and dz2-type states of the Fe and Cu adatoms, leading to chemical bonding.

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