Mechanochemistry: targeted delivery of single molecules


The use of scanning probe microscopy-based techniques to manipulate single molecules1 and deliver them in a precisely controlled manner to a specific target represents a significant nanotechnological challenge2,3. The ultimate physical limit in the design and fabrication of organic surfaces can be reached using this approach. Here we show that the atomic force microscope (AFM), which has been used extensively to investigate the stretching of individual molecules4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12, can deliver and immobilize single molecules, one at a time, on a surface. Reactive polymer molecules, attached at one end to an AFM tip, are brought into contact with a modified silicon substrate to which they become linked by a chemical reaction. When the AFM tip is pulled away from the surface, the resulting mechanical force causes the weakest bond — the one between the tip and polymer — to break. This process transfers the polymer molecule to the substrate where it can be modified by further chemical reactions.

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Figure 1: Molecule by molecule delivery process.
Figure 2: Force curves obtained between PNSA-modified gold-coated AFM tips and an NH2-modified silicon substrate in N,N-dimethylformamide.
Figure 3: Histogram of the rupture forces between PNSA-modified AFM tips and an NH2-modified silicon substrate in N,N-dimethylformamide.
Figure 4: AFM topography images obtained in air after the delivery.


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We thank C.-A. Fustin (UCL-CMAT) for preparing the amino-functionalized silicon substrates. The work was supported by the Belgian Science Policy in the frame of IUAP V/03 “Supramolecular Chemistry & Supramolecular Catalysis”.

Author information

A.S.D. conceived and designed the experiments, S.C. performed the experiments, and S.G. and C.J. prepared the functionalized AFM tips and contributed to the experimental design. S.R. and F.Z. performed the calculations. A.S.D., S.C., S.R. and F.Z. analysed the data and discussed the results. A.S.D. and F.Z. co-wrote the paper.

Correspondence to Anne-Sophie Duwez or Stéphane Cuenot.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Duwez, A., Cuenot, S., Jérôme, C. et al. Mechanochemistry: targeted delivery of single molecules. Nature Nanotech 1, 122–125 (2006).

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