Real-time single-molecule imaging of an entire chemical reaction
(Nanowerk Spotlight) It its more than 25 years of existence, Scanning Tunneling Microscopy (STM) has predominantly brought us extremely detailed images of matter at the molecular and atomic level. STM – not to be confused with the scanning electron microscope (SEM) – is a non-optical microscope that scans an electrical probe over a surface to be imaged to detect a weak electric current flowing between the tip and the surface. The STM allows scientists to visualize regions of high electron density and hence infer the position of individual atoms and molecules on the surface of a lattice. Researchers have now taken a further step by using STM to perform real-time single-molecule imaging of an entire chemical reaction. Many chemical reactions are catalyzed by metal complexes, and insight into their mechanisms is essential for the design of future catalysts. These new findings have demonstrated that the STM approach to studying chemical reactions in a dynamic environment can provide valuable information about reaction mechanisms and rates, as well as catalyst activity and stability.