UBC Reports | Vol.
50 | No. 10 | Nov.
Grad students are first in Canada to manipulate single
By Michelle Cook
To borrow a phrase from another significant moment in science
-- it was one very small step for man, but a giant leap for
On Sept. 22, a group of physics researchers working with
professor Johannes Barth in the Advanced Materials and Materials
and Process Engineering Laboratory (AMPEL) lined up 28 carbon
monoxide molecules to produce the letters UBC. With each letter
a mere two nanometers wide, it is the smallest “UBC”
Just how miniscule is it?
“It would be like spelling out “UBC” with
needles and then trying to read it from outer space,”
says Agustin Schiffrin, a PhD candidate who worked on the
project with postdoctoral fellows Willi Auwaerter and Andreas
Lest you think the quest for miniaturization a sheer novelty
dreamt up by grad students, the group’s feat is actually
quite significant. They are the first in Canada to manipulate
single atoms or molecules -- an advance that bodes well for
future research into novel materials to be harnessed in
Think of shirt-button-sized MP3 players says Alexander Weber.
“You can’t get any smaller than this. That’s
the cool thing about it.”
Using a scanning tunneling microscope to do the work, the
group put the molecules on a copper surface at a super cold
(-260×C) temperature to slow them down enough for the
team to be able to move them around. If it sounds easy, the
entire process took two straight days of work and copious
cups of coffee to complete.
Since the CO molecules used were fairly simple, the researchers
have already begun to experiment with more complex organic