Control of long-distance motion of single molecules on a surface

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Science  20 Nov 2020:
Vol. 370, Issue 6519, pp. 957-960
DOI: 10.1126/science.abd0696

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Telegraphing molecules

Scanning tunneling microscope (STM) tips have long been used to manipulate atoms and molecules through direct interactions. Civita et al. now show that at cryogenic temperatures, the bias voltage from an STM tip can propel a large organic molecule, dibromoterfluorene, long distances—tens of nanometers along straight tracks on the flat silver (111) surface (see the Perspective by Esch and Lechner). This electrostatic effect requires the molecule to be oriented along the track, and derivatives lacking bromide groups would change direction. In a dual-tip setup, changing the bias voltage sent and received molecules between two specific points about 60 nanometers apart.

Science, this issue p. 957; see also p. 912


Spatial control over molecular movement is typically limited because motion at the atomic scale follows stochastic processes. We used scanning tunneling microscopy to bring single molecules into a stable orientation of high translational mobility where they moved along precisely defined tracks. Single dibromoterfluorene molecules moved over large distances of 150 nanometers with extremely high spatial precision of 0.1 angstrom across a silver (111) surface. The electrostatic nature of the effect enabled the selective application of repulsive and attractive forces to send or receive single molecules. The high control allows us to precisely move an individual and specific molecular entity between two separate probes, opening avenues for velocity measurements and thus energy dissipation studies of single molecules in real time during diffusion and collision.

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