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Real-space imaging of interfacial water with submolecular resolution

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 25 January 2017

This article has been updated


Water/solid interfaces are vital to our daily lives and are also a central theme across an incredibly wide range of scientific disciplines. Resolving the internal structure, that is, the O–H directionality, of water molecules adsorbed on solid surfaces has been one of the key issues of water science yet it remains challenging. Using a low-temperature scanning tunnelling microscope, we report submolecular-resolution imaging of individual water monomers and tetramers on NaCl(001) films supported by a Au(111) substrate at 5 K. The frontier molecular orbitals of adsorbed water were directly visualized, which allowed discrimination of the orientation of the monomers and the hydrogen-bond directionality of the tetramers in real space. Comparison with ab initio density functional theory calculations reveals that the ability to access the orbital structures of water stems from the electronic decoupling effect provided by the NaCl films and the precisely tunable tip–water coupling.

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Figure 1: Water monomers adsorbed on NaCl(001)/Au(111).
Figure 2: Development of the HOMO and LUMO states of a water monomer near the Fermi level due to tip–water coupling.
Figure 3: Orbital imaging of a water monomer with submolecular resolution.
Figure 4: Adsorption configuration and orbital imaging of water tetramers on NaCl(001)/Au(111).

Change history

  • 21 December 2016

    In the version of this Article originally published, the title of ref. 1 was incorrect and should have read: 'The interaction of water with solid surfaces: fundamental aspects revisited'. This was corrected on 21 December 2016.


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This work was supported by the National Basic Research Programs of China under Grant No. 2012CB921303, the National Science Foundation of China under Grant Nos 11104004, 11290162, 11275008, 91321309 and 91021007, and the Research Fund for the Doctoral Program of Higher Education of China under Grant No. 20110001120126. We thank W. Ji, S. Meng, S. W. Gao and W. Ho for enlightening discussions.

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Authors and Affiliations



Y.J. and E.W. designed and supervised the project. J.G., X.M. and Y.J. performed the STM measurements. J.C., X-Z.L. and E.W. carried out the DFT calculations. J.G., X.M., J.C., J.P., X-Z.L., L.X., E.W. and Y.J. analysed the data. J.S. contributed to the STM programming. J-R.S. contributed to the interpretation of the data. Y.J. wrote the manuscript with J.G., X.M., J.C., J.P., X-Z.L. L.X. and E.W. The manuscript reflects the contributions of all authors.

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Correspondence to Enge Wang or Ying Jiang.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Guo, J., Meng, X., Chen, J. et al. Real-space imaging of interfacial water with submolecular resolution. Nature Mater 13, 184–189 (2014).

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