Developing new materials is a long-standing goal that extends across the fields of synthesis, catalysis, nanotechnology and materials science. Transforming one compound or material into another involves the gaining, losing and sharing of electrons at a molecular level. Investigating single-molecule reactions — and understanding how they provide information about or differ from reactions in the bulk — will deepen our understanding of chemical reactions and establish new frameworks in materials science. In this Review, we survey state-of-the-art chemical reactions occurring in single-molecule junctions. We explore the advantages of real-time testbeds that deliver detailed information about reaction dynamics, intermediates, transition states and solvent effects. We provide a quantitative perspective of the charge transport phenomena associated with chemical reactions at molecular tunnelling junctions, and we compare the behaviour of single-molecule reactions and those taking place in ensemble states. Finally, we explore the possibility of leveraging single-molecule catalysis for large-scale production of materials.
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The authors thank Northwestern University for its continued support of this research. The research at Zhejiang University was supported by the Starry Night Science Fund of Zhejiang University Shanghai Institute for Advanced Study (grant number SN-ZJU-SIAS-006) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant number 22273085). The research at Peking University was supported by the National Key R&D Program of China (grant numbers 2017YFA0204901, 2021YFA1200101 and 2021YFA1200102) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant numbers 21727806, 21933001 and 22150013). X.G. acknowledges the Tencent Foundation through the XPLORER PRIZE and Frontiers Science Center for New Organic Matter at Nankai University (grant number 63181206). The authors also thank Shanghai ShengSheng Logistics for the financial support.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Chen, H., Jia, C., Zhu, X. et al. Reactions in single-molecule junctions. Nat Rev Mater 8, 165–185 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41578-022-00506-0