Viewing and Inducing Symmetry Breaking at the Single-Molecule Limit
ABSTRACT Symmetry breaking by photons, electrons, and molecular interactions lies at the heart of many important problems as varied as the origin of homochiral life to enantioselective drug production. Herein we report a system in which symmetry breaking can be induced and measured in situ at the single-molecule level using scanning tunneling microscopy. We demonstrate that electrical excitation of a prochiral molecule on an achiral surface produces large enantiomeric excesses in the chiral adsorbed state of up to 39%. The degree of symmetry breaking was monitored as a function of scanning probe tip state, and the results revealed that enantiomeric excesses are correlated with the intrinsic chirality in scanning probe tips themselves, as evidenced by height differences between single molecule enantiomers. While this work has consequences for the study of two-dimensional chirality, more importantly, it offers a new method for interrogating the coupling of photons, electrons, and combinations of physical fields to achiral starting systems in a reproducible manner. This will allow the mechanism of chirality transfer to be studied in a system in which enantiomeric excesses are quantified accurately by counting individual molecules. Chirality 00:000-000, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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ABSTRACT: For molecules to be used as components in molecular machinery, methods are required that couple individual molecules to external energy sources in order to selectively excite motion in a given direction. While significant progress has been made in the construction of synthetic molecular motors powered by light and by chemical reactions, there are few experimental examples of electrically driven molecular motors. To this end, we pioneered the use of a new, stable and tunable molecular rotor system based on surface-bound thioethers to comprehensively study many aspects of molecular rotation. As biological molecular motors often operate at interfaces, our synthetic system is especially amenable to microscopic interrogation as compared to solution-based systems. Using scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) and density functional theory, we studied the rotation of surface-bound thioethers, which can be induced either thermally or by electrons from the STM tip 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. This work culminated in the first experimental demonstration of a single-molecule electric motor, where the electrically driven rotation of a butyl methyl sulfide molecule adsorbed on a copper surface could be directionally biased. The direction and rate of the rotation are related to the chirality of both the molecule and the STM tip (which serves as the electrode), illustrating the importance of the symmetry of the metal contacts in atomic-scale electrical devices.The Chemical Record 10/2014; 14(5). DOI:10.1002/tcr.201402007 · 5.58 Impact Factor