The First Images of Molecules Breaking and Reforming Chemical Bonds

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George Dvorsky over at io9:

Microscopy is advancing in leaps and bounds these days. It was just last week that scientists produced the first image of a hydrogen atom’s orbital structure. Not to be outdone, Berkeley chemists have now captured a series of images showing molecules as they break and reform their chemical bonds. It looks almost… textbook.

Holy crap, is it incredible when scientists present actual, tangible visual evidence to reaffirm theoretical models. As any chemistry student knows, molecular bonds, or covalent bond structures, are typically represented in science class with a stick-like nomenclature. But as the work of Felix Fischer, Dimas de Oteyza and their Berkeley Lab colleagues beautifully demonstrates, these models are startlingly accurate.

And like so many good scientific discoveries, it all happened somewhat by accident.

The Berkeley scientists were actually working on a way to precisely assemble nanostructures made from graphene using a new cutting-edge approach to chemical reactions. They were trying to build a single-layer material in which carbon atoms are arranged in repeating, hexagonal patterns — but they needed to take a closer look to see what was happening at the single-atom level. So, they pulled out a powerful atomic force microscope — and what they saw was “amazing,” to quote Fischer.

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