Atomic-scale spin sensing with a single molecule at the apex of a scanning tunneling microscope

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Science  01 Nov 2019:
Vol. 366, Issue 6465, pp. 623-627
DOI: 10.1126/science.aax8222

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Single molecules sense spin

Imaging surface magnetism, and, in particular, spin excitations of adsorbed molecules or films, is challenging. Verlhac et al. demonstrate spin-sensing capability by using the magnetic exchange interaction between a surface sample and the spin-excited states of a nickelocene molecule attached to a scanning tunneling microscope tip. The spatial dependence of the exchange field at the atomic scale enabled imaging of magnetic corrugation with atomic-scale lateral resolution for iron atoms and small islands of cobalt atoms absorbed on nonmagnetic copper surfaces.

Science, this issue p. 623


Recent advances in scanning probe techniques rely on the chemical functionalization of the probe-tip termination by a single molecule. The success of this approach opens the prospect of introducing spin sensitivity through functionalization by a magnetic molecule. We used a nickelocene-terminated tip (Nc-tip), which offered the possibility of producing spin excitations on the tip apex of a scanning tunneling microscope (STM). When the Nc-tip was 100 picometers away from point contact with a surface-supported object, magnetic effects could be probed through changes in the spin excitation spectrum of nickelocene. We used this detection scheme to simultaneously determine the exchange field and the spin polarization of iron atoms and cobalt films on a copper surface with atomic-scale resolution.

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