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UBC Reports | Vol. 50 | No. 10 | Nov. 4, 2004

Microscopic UBC

Grad students are first in Canada to manipulate single molecules

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 Canadian nanoscience.

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” ever written.

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 Riemann.

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 species.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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