Researchers have built and imaged the smallest possible five-ringed structure. It is about 100,000 times thinner than a human hair and looks like the Olympic rings.
Created by the Royal Society Of Chemistry (RSC), the University of Warwick, and IBM Research, it has been captured in a picture using state-of-the-art imaging techniques.
“When doodling in a planning meeting, it occurred to me that a molecular structure with three hexagonal rings above two others would make for an interesting synthetic challenge,” said Professor Graham Richards CBE, RSC Council member.
“I wondered: could someone actually make it, and produce an image of the actual molecule?”
Two chemists at the University of Warwick, David Fox and Anish Mistry, then used “clever” synthetic organic chemistry to build olympicene.
“Alongside the scientific challenge involved in creating olympicene in a laboratory, there’s some serious practical reasons for working with molecules like this,” said Dr Fox.
“The compound is related to single-layer graphite, also known as graphene, and is one of a number of related compounds which potentially have interesting electronic and optical properties.
“For example these types of molecules may offer great potential for the next generation of solar cells and high-tech lighting sources such as LEDs.”
Researchers at the Physics of Nanoscale Systems Group at IBM Research–Zurich then imaged the olympicene with unprecedented resolution by using a technique known as atomic force microscopy. Using this technique, the IBM researchers imaged a single olympicene molecule that is just 1.2 nanometers in width. That’s about 100,000 times thinner than a human hair.
“The key to achieving atomic resolution was an atomically sharp and defined tip apex as well as the very high stability of the system,” explains IBM scientist Dr. Leo Gross.
“We prepared our tip by deliberately picking up single atoms and molecules and showed that it is the foremost tip atom or molecule that governs the contrast and resolution of our AFM measurements.”