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Home > News > Measuring Atomic Friction

February 24th, 2008

Measuring Atomic Friction

FOR THE FIRST TIME, scientists have determined the forces needed to move a single atom across a surface. With this advance, it's now possible to quantify friction at the atomic level. Knowing how tightly an atom or a molecule "sticks" to a surface will be invaluable in nanoelectronics design and in bioengineering.

Using a modified atomic force microscope at ultrahigh vacuum and temperatures of only 5 K, a team of physicists measured both the lateral and vertical forces exerted on a cobalt atom or carbon monoxide molecule as the microscope tip dragged these diminutive particles along a platinum or copper surface (Science 2008, 319, 1066). The team included Andreas J. Heinrich and Markus Ternes at IBM's Almaden Research Center, in San Jose, Calif.; physics professor Franz Giessibl at the University of Regensburg, Germany; and their colleagues.


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