Non-additivity of molecule-surface van der Waals potentials from force measurements

Nat Commun. 2014 Nov 26;5:5568. doi: 10.1038/ncomms6568.


Van der Waals (vdW) forces act ubiquitously in condensed matter. Despite being weak on an atomic level, they substantially influence molecular and biological systems due to their long range and system-size scaling. The difficulty to isolate and measure vdW forces on a single-molecule level causes our present understanding to be strongly theory based. Here we show measurements of the attractive potential between differently sized organic molecules and a metal surface using an atomic force microscope. Our choice of molecules and the large molecule-surface separation cause this attraction to be purely of vdW type. The experiment allows testing the asymptotic vdW force law and its validity range. We find a superlinear growth of the vdW attraction with molecular size, originating from the increased deconfinement of electrons in the molecules. Because such non-additive vdW contributions are not accounted for in most first-principles or empirical calculations, we suggest further development in that direction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't