Metallic bonds become molecular-like in atomic-sized devices

Research paper by Harsh Deep Chopra, J. N. Armstrong, Susan Z. Hua

Indexed on: 23 May '13Published on: 23 May '13Published in: Physics - Mesoscopic Systems and Quantum Hall Effect


Covalent molecules are characterized by directed bonds, which provide stability-of-form to the molecules relative atomic positions. In contrast, bulk metals are characterized by delocalized bonds, where a large number of resonance structures ensure their high stability. However, reduced to atomic dimensions, metallic arrangements become increasingly vulnerable to disruptive entropic fluctuations. Using the smallest possible device, namely, a single atom held between two atomically sharp probes, force to rupture single-atom bridges was measured with pico-level resolution, using gold and silver. Remarkably, measured forces are found to be a precise vector sum (directional bonding) of cohesive forces between the central and adjacently coordinated atoms. Over three to four times stronger than bulk, the directional bonds provide high configurational stability to atomic-sized metallic devices, just as delocalization-induced resonance stabilization is the emergent response of bulk metals. Results open new opportunity for molecular electronics without complications arising from metal/molecule interfaces.