A standing molecule as a single-electron field emitter

Nature. 2018 Jun;558(7711):573-576. doi: 10.1038/s41586-018-0223-y. Epub 2018 Jun 27.


Scanning probe microscopy makes it possible to image and spectroscopically characterize nanoscale objects, and to manipulate1-3 and excite4-8 them; even time-resolved experiments are now routinely achieved9,10. This combination of capabilities has enabled proof-of-principle demonstrations of nanoscale devices, including logic operations based on molecular cascades 11 , a single-atom transistor 12 , a single-atom magnetic memory cell 13 and a kilobyte atomic memory 14 . However, a key challenge is fabricating device structures that can overcome their attraction to the underlying surface and thus protrude from the two-dimensional flatlands of the surface. Here we demonstrate the fabrication of such a structure: we use the tip of a scanning probe microscope to lift a large planar aromatic molecule (3,4,9,10-perylenetetracarboxylic-dianhydride) into an upright, standing geometry on a pedestal of two metal (silver) adatoms. This atypical and surprisingly stable upright orientation of the single molecule, which under all known circumstances adsorbs flat on metals15,16, enables the system to function as a coherent single-electron field emitter. We anticipate that other metastable adsorbate configurations might also be accessible, thereby opening up the third dimension for the design of functional nanostructures on surfaces.