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Experimental demonstration of a single-molecule electric motor

Abstract

For molecules to be used as components in molecular machines, methods that couple individual molecules to external energy sources and that selectively excite motion in a given direction are required1,2,3,4,5,6. Significant progress has been made in the construction of molecular motors powered by light1,2,7 and by chemical reactions3,4,5,8, but electrically driven motors have not yet been built, despite several theoretical proposals for such motors9,10,11,12,13. Here we report that a butyl methyl sulphide molecule adsorbed on a copper surface can be operated as a single-molecule electric motor. Electrons from a scanning tunnelling microscope are used to drive the directional motion of the molecule in a two-terminal setup. Moreover, the temperature and electron flux can be adjusted to allow each rotational event to be monitored at the molecular scale in real time. The direction and rate of the rotation are related to the chiralities of both the molecule and the tip of the microscope (which serves as the electrode), illustrating the importance of the symmetry of the metal contacts in atomic-scale electrical devices14.

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Figure 1: Single-molecule rotors.
Figure 2: Exciting and measuring molecular rotation.
Figure 3: Mechanism of directional rotation.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank the National Science Foundation, the Beckman Foundation and Research Corporation for support of this work. H.L.T. and E.V.I. acknowledge the Department of Education for GAANN fellowships.

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H.L.T., C.J.M., A.D.J., A.E.B. and E.V.I. performed the experiments. Data analysis was performed by H.L.T., C.J.M., H.Y.K., A.F.M., N.K. and E.C.H.S. The paper was written by H.L.T., C.J.M. and E.C.H.S.

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Correspondence to E. Charles H. Sykes.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Tierney, H., Murphy, C., Jewell, A. et al. Experimental demonstration of a single-molecule electric motor. Nature Nanotech 6, 625–629 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1038/nnano.2011.142

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