IBM scientists image the anatomy of a molecule for first time
While research labs around the world cut back, IBM continues to remain committed to R&D, even in areas that may not pay back for 10 to 15 years. There is no better example of this then the fundamental science commonly known as nanoscience, which aims to understand and control some of the smallest objects known to humankind. While microscopic, this field of science could one day contribute to instrumenting and interconnecting IBM's vision of a smarter planet by building vastly smaller, faster and more energy- efficient processors and memory devices.
Setting the bar really high
Contributing to this vision is a recent discovery by the IBM Research - Zurich team of Leo Gross, Fabian Mohn, Nikolaj Moll and Gerhard Meyer and former IBMer Peter Liljeroth from Utrecht University. As published in the August 28 issue of Science, the scientists have been able to image the anatomy or chemical structure of an individual molecule of pentacene with unprecedented resolution, using noncontact atomic force microscopy (AFM) for the first time ever. This achievement has been a long-standing goal of surface microscopy.
While not a direct technological comparison, a simplified analogy would be X-rays, which enable the imaging of bones and organs in the human body. IBM scientists were able to image the molecular backbone of individual molecules with atomic resolution.
The solution to the challenge is a carbon monoxide molecule, which lies at the end of a sharp metal tip, which is then placed at the end of an atomic force microscope (see image). This molecule acts as a high powered magnifying glass that scientists use to image the individual atoms within the pentacene molecule - revealing the exact anatomy or chemical structure at an atomic resolution.
Two other major factors in their success were a common tuning fork, similar to those used to maintain accuracy in mechanical wrist watches, and a very stable microscope. Any alteration during the 20 hours of data acquisition would have required the team to start over again.
Passing the nano torch
This discovery follows a long string of nanoscience achievements that can be traced back to the development of the scanning tunneling microscope by IBM Research - Zurich scientists in 1981. The scientists, IBM Fellows and Nobel Laureates Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer, are sure to be very pleased knowing that IBM continues to innovate in the nanoworld they unlocked.