PITTSBURGHUniversity of Pittsburgh researchers have discovered that certain organicor carbon-basedmolecules exhibit the properties of atoms under certain circumstances and, in turn, conduct electricity as well as metal. Detailed in the April 18 edition of Science, the finding is a breakthrough in developing nanotechnology that provides a new strategy for designing electronic materials, including inexpensive and multifunctional organic conductors that have long been considered the key to smaller, cheaper, and faster technologies.
The Pitt team found that the hollow, soccer-ball-shaped carbon molecules known as fullerenes can hold and transfer an electrical charge much like the most highly conductive atoms, explained project head Hrvoje Petek, a professor of physics and chemistry in Pitts School of Arts and Sciences and codirector of Pitts Petersen Institute for NanoScience and Engineering. The research was performed by Pitt post-doctoral associates Min Feng and Jin Zhao.
When an electron was introduced into a fullerene molecule, the shape of the electron distribution mimicked that of a hydrogen atom or an atom from the alkali metal group, which includes lithium, sodium, and potassium. Moreover, when two fullerenes were placed next to each other on a copper surface, they showed the electron distribution of their chemical bond and appeared as H2, a hydrogen molecule. The assembly exhibited metal-like conductivity when the team extended it to a wire 1-molecule-wide.
Our work provides a new perspective on what determines the electronic properties of materials, Petek said. The realization that hollow molecules can have metal-like conductivity opens the way to develop novel materials with electronic and chemical properties that can be tailored by shape and size.
Although the team worked with fullerenes, the teams results apply to all hollow molecules, Petek added, including carbon nanotubesrolled, 1-atom-thick sheets of graphite 100
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University of Pittsburgh