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Imaging the passage of a single hydrocarbon chain through a nanopore


Molecular transport through nanoscale pores in films, membranes and wall structures is of fundamental importance in a number of physical, chemical and biological processes1,2,3,4,5,6. However, there is a lack of experimental methods that can obtain information on the structure and orientation of the molecules as they pass through the pore, and their interactions with the pore during passage. Imaging with a transmission electron microscope is a powerful method for studying structural changes in single molecules as they move7,8 and for imaging molecules confined inside carbon nanotubes9. Here, we report that such imaging can be used to observe the structure and orientation of a hydrocarbon chain as it passes through nanoscale defects in the walls of a single-walled carbon nanotube to the vacuum outside, and also to study the interactions between the chain and the nanopore. Based on experiments at 293 K and 4 K we conclude that the major energy source for the molecular motions observed at 4 K is the electron beam used for the imaging.

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Figure 1: The sample molecules.
Figure 2: Alkenyl fullerene in a carbon nanotube.
Figure 3: Alkenyl fullerene and alkyl fullerene in a carbon nanotube.


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Electron microscopy experiments were performed in collaboration with the Nanotube Research Centre, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). We thank K. Yamanouchi for helpful discussions. This study was partly supported by MEXT (KAKENHI no. 18655012 to E.N.) and the Sumitomo Foundation (to H.I.). N.S. wishes to thank the Knut och Alice Wallenbergs stiftelse (Stockholm, Sweden) for a postdoctoral fellowship and T.T. thanks the Japan Society for Promotion of Science for a predoctoral fellowship.

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Authors and Affiliations



M.K., H.I. and E.N. conceived and designed the experiments. N.S. contributed materials/analysis tools. M.K., H.I. and E.N. co-wrote the paper. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript. N.S., T.T., H.I. and E.N. were responsible for synthesis of organic molecules and their analysis. M.K. was responsible for peapod sample preparations, TEM measurements and their analysis.

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Correspondence to Hiroyuki Isobe or Eiichi Nakamura.

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Koshino, M., Solin, N., Tanaka, T. et al. Imaging the passage of a single hydrocarbon chain through a nanopore. Nature Nanotech 3, 595–597 (2008).

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