Trapping and moving metal atoms with a six-leg molecule


Putting to work a molecule able to collect and carry adatoms in a controlled way on a surface is a solution for fabricating atomic structures atom by atom. Investigations have shown that the interaction of an organic molecule with the surface of a metal can induce surface reconstruction down to the atomic scale1,2,3,4,5. In this way, well-defined nanostructures such as chains of adatoms2, atomic trenches3,4 and metal–ligand compounds5 have been formed. Moreover, the progress in manipulation techniques6,7,8,9,10 induced by a scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) has opened up the possibility of studying artificially built molecular-metal atomic scale structures11,12, and allowed the atom-by-atom doping of a single C60 molecule by picking up K atoms13. The present work goes a step further and combines STM manipulation techniques with the ability of a molecule to assemble an atomic nanostructure. We present a well-designed six-leg single hexa-t-butyl-hexaphenylbenzene (HB-HPB) molecule14, which collects and carries up to six copper adatoms on a Cu(111) surface when manipulated with a STM tip. The ‘HB-HPB-Cu atoms’ complex can be further manipulated, bringing its Cu freight to a predetermined position on the surface where the metal atoms can finally be released.

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Figure 1: The HB-HPB molecule.
Figure 2: Trapping, moving and releasing adatoms.
Figure 3: Shape of molecule–atom complexes.


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Partial funding by the European Program RTN AMMIST and the Volkswagen Foundation Project ‘Single Molecule Synthesis’ is gratefully acknowledged.

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Correspondence to Francesca Moresco.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Gross, L., Rieder, KH., Moresco, F. et al. Trapping and moving metal atoms with a six-leg molecule. Nature Mater 4, 892–895 (2005).

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