Atomic bonds forming and breaking captured on video for the first time
Atoms are known for forming bonds and breaking apart, a process that’s crucial to basically everything in the universe. But because it happens on such a tiny scale, it’s difficult to study and record. Now, researchers from the Universities of Nottingham and Ulm have managed to capture atoms forming and breaking bonds on video for the first time.
The team used transmission electron microscopy (TEM) to image a pair of rhenium atoms, as they “walked” hand in hand along a carbon nanotube. With a quadruple bond between them, the two atoms form a molecule of Re2.
“It was surprisingly clear how the two atoms move in pairs, clearly indicating a bond between them,” says Kecheng Cao, an author of the study. “Importantly, as Re2 moves down the nanotube, the bond length changes, indicating that the bond becomes stronger or weaker depending on the environment around the atoms.”
The researchers then saw the atoms move apart, stretching themselves into more of an elliptical shape, straining and eventually breaking the bond. And finally, after a while they combined once again into an Re2 molecule.
“To our knowledge, this is the first time when bond evolution, breaking and formation was recorded on film at the atomic scale,” says Andrei Khlobystov, an author of the study. “We are now pushing the frontiers of molecule imaging beyond simple structural analysis, and towards understanding dynamics of individual molecules in real time.”
Of course, imaging this stuff is made tricky by just how small it all is – the chemical bond between two atoms measures just 0.1 to 0.3 nanometers long, or about 500,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. With plenty of mysteries still lurking down on the atomic scale, this new technique could help provide some answers.
The research was published in the journal Science Advances. Check out the atoms bonding and unbonding in the video below.
Source: University of Nottingham