Turning a Single Molecule into an Electric Motor

When: Thursday, October 03, 2013 at 4:00 pm
Where: DA 114
Speaker: Professor Charles Sykes
Organization: Tufts University, Department of Chemistry
Sponsor: Physics Colloquium

In stark contrast to nature, current manmade devices, with the exception of liquid crystals, make no use of nanoscale molecular motion. In order for molecules to be used as components in molecular machines, methods are required to couple individual molecules to external energy sources and to selectively excite motion in a given direction. Significant progress has been made in the construction of molecular motors powered by lightand by chemical reactions, but electrically-driven motors have not been demonstrated yet, despite a number of theoretical proposals for such motors. Studying the rotation of molecules bound to surfaces offers the advantage that a single layer can be assembled, monitored and manipulated using the tools of surface science. Thioether molecules constitute a simple, robust system with which to study molecular rotation as a function of temperature, electron energy, applied fields, and proximity of neighboring molecules. A butyl methyl sulphide (BuSMe) molecule adsorbed on a copper surface can be operated as a single-molecule electric motor. Electrons from a scanning tunneling microscope are used to drive directional motion of the BuSMe 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 the molecule and the tip of the microscope (which serves as the electrode), which illustrates the importance of the symmetry of the metal contacts in atomic-scale electrical devices.