AFM images a reactant and its cyclised products on a silver surface

These atomic force microscopy (AFM) images show a reactant and two of its products and come from researchers in Berkley, California. The team used an AFM needle with a carbon monoxide molecule adsorbed onto the tip to actually watch a reaction taking place and capture these snapshots of it.

As the tip is moved over a surface it reacts to the bumps made by atoms, in this case molecules of oligo-(phenylene-1,2-ethynylene) immobilised on a silver substrate. But the team didn't just image static molecules, they heated them to around 90°C and then imaged the different products as well. The cyclic products pictured were not those anticipated by the group, suggesting there is still some way to go in predicting and controlling the manufacture of graphene related nanostructures for electronics.