Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Letter
  • Published:

Positioning single atoms with a scanning tunnelling microscope


SINCE its invention in the early 1980s by Binnig and Rohrer1,2, the scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) has provided images of surfaces and adsorbed atoms and molecules with unprecedented resolution. The STM has also been used to modify surfaces, for example by locally pinning molecules to a surface3 and by transfer of an atom from the STM tip to the surface4. Here we report the use of the STM at low temperatures (4 K) to position individual xenon atoms on a single-crystal nickel surface with atomic pre-cision. This capacity has allowed us to fabricate rudimentary structures of our own design, atom by atom. The processes we describe are in principle applicable to molecules also. In view of the device-like characteristics reported for single atoms on surfaces5,6, the possibilities for perhaps the ultimate in device miniaturization are evident.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Binnig, G., Rohrer, H., Gerber, Ch. & Weibel, E. Appl. Phys. Lett. 40, 178–180 (1982).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Binnig, G., Rohrer, H., Gerber, Ch. & Weibel, E. Phys. Rev. Lett. 49, 57–61 (1982).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  3. Foster, J. S., Frommer, J. E. & Arnett, P. C. Nature 331, 324–326 (1988).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Becker, R. S., Golovchenko, J. A. & Swartzentruber, B. S. Nature 325, 419–421 (1987).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Lyo, I.-W. & Avouris, P. Science 245, 1369–1371 (1989).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Bedrossion, P., Chen, D. M., Mortensen, K. & Golovchenko, J. A. Nature 342, 258–260 (1989).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Eigler, D., Schweizer, E. Positioning single atoms with a scanning tunnelling microscope. Nature 344, 524–526 (1990).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing