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Toward the Space-Time Limit


A chemical reaction is fundamentally initiated by the restructuring of a chemical bond. Chemical reactions occur so quickly that their exact trajectory is unknown. To unlock the secret, first one would seek to know the inner working of a single molecule, and therein, a single chemical bond. However, the task is no small feat. Single molecule studies require exquisite spatial resolution afforded by relatively new technologies, and ultrafast laser techniques. The overarching theme of my dissertation will be the path towards achieving the space-time limit in chemistry: namely, the ability to record the structural changes of individual molecules during a reaction, one event at a time.

A scanning tunneling microscope (STM) is used to image the molecules and manipulate their electronic environments. STM has the capacity to create topographical images of molecules with \r{A}ngstr\"{o}m ($10^{-10}$ m -- the size of an atom) resolution, and can also probe the molecule electronically by use of a tunneling current ($I_t$). STM images reflect the changes in the potential energy surface (PES), and help us understand how molecules interact with surfaces and each other, thereby accessing the fundamental problem of catalysis and chemical reactions. In addition to seeing the molecule, we use Raman spectroscopy to track its molecular changes with chemical specificity. I combine these experimental tools to investigate tip-enhanced Raman spectra (TERS) of single molecules within the confines of a STM.

These methods were used to report the conformational change of a single azobenzene-thiol derivative molecule. Although we were able to definitely isolate a single molecule signature, imaging the single molecule in real space and time proved elusive. Additionally, I report on a conductance switch based on the observable change of the topographic STM images of a radical anion mediated by the spin flip of a single electron on a single molecule. This is effectively the smallest achievable architecture of molecular electronics, negating the need for heat dissipation in small systems. A related work found how physisorption potentials of molecules to metals could be experimentally visually verified and modeled by STM, thus allowing us to use the STM tip as a driver for molecular motion on surfaces.

Throughtout this work, we noted that a dominant feature of single molecule chemistry are intensity and spectral fluctuations that are difficult to characterize, as the molecule contorts wildly when it experiences distinct and powerful electromagnetic fields and field gradients. This much is evident in the last experiment, and chapter, of this thesis. Raman spectra associated with cobalt (II) tetraphenyl porphyrin (CoTPP) axially coordinated with bipyridyl ethylene (BPE) were captured with Raman mapping with nanometer resolution. However, the stochastic apperance of Raman lines and low resolution images made it difficult to ascertain which molecule we captured. The preliminary results as well as follow-up conrol experiments are discussed.

While each experiment constitutes in and of itself an important, individual contribution, their sum establishes the principles of seeing single-molecule chemistry.

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