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Single atoms placed on graphene and observed in TEM in real time

Since the invention of a Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM) by Binning, Rohrer, Gerber and Weibel in 1982 the task of seeing single atoms became easy. Yet the STM has its limitations due to its sensitivity to the conductivity and cleanliness of the surface. Also it is rather slow in most cases so it is difficult to see the life of atoms and their aggregates in real time. Atoms can also bee seen in a transmission electron microscope (TEM). So far, only heavy atoms have been visualized in TEM. Light atoms, such as carbon, are difficult to see, due to low contrast. Now, the Alex Zettl group from Berkeley was able to use a conventional TEM to image single atoms, even the light ones, as they are placed on the surface of a graphene. Graphene is a thin membrane made of a single layer of carbon atoms, forming a hexagonal honeycomb lattice. In this experiments the graphene sheet was suspended and the atoms to be imaged were attached to the graphene membrane by the van der Waals force. Using the TEM the researches were able to image the atoms and investigate the real time dynamics of single atoms, such as carbon or hydrogen, and their chains. The results are published in Nature magazine (J. C. Meyer, C. O. Girit, M. F. Crommie and A. Zettl Nature 454, 319 (2008). Images and movies of atoms on graphene are here.

Single atoms placed on graphene and observed in TEM in real time

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