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High interest bonds: IBM molecular images show ties that bind atoms, hold promise for graphene

Posting in Architecture

"The name's bond, variable bond." The ties between atoms in a graphene-like molecule grow wider toward the surface, IBM reveals.

What sort of chemical bond do you prefer to peek at - ionic or covalent? Whatever your pleasure, IBM can offer it.

New molecular images from the company's Zurich research lab show atomic bonds in detail. IBM will use images like this to better figure out what's hindering graphene, the super material that could revolutionize everything from electronics to construction and architecture. Graphene suffers from bond-related defects, an IBM press release notes (warning: dense release).

IBM snapped a picture of a couple of different graphene-like molecules - including a buckminsterfullerene and another that's a "polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon" (pictured) - using an atomic force microscope.

Among the revelations: the ties are squatter in the middle than they are between the atoms toward the edges, which require more electrons to hold things together.

"The individual bonds between carbon atoms in such molecules differ subtly in their length and strength," IBM says, adding that bonds also change during chemical reactions and excited states.

Bond variations affect a molecule's chemical, electronic and optical properties. So the reasoning goes that if IBM can understand the schizophrenic ties within a graphene molecule, then the world stands a greater chance of putting the wonder material to use.

Recently discovered graphene is a one-atom thin sheet of carbon that has the strength of a super hero and could move electrons 100 times faster than today's silicon semiconductors. It has garnered interest from across many industries.

IBM says that closer examination of graphene bonds is "important for research on novel electronic devices, organic solar cells, and organic light-emitting diodes."

The days of "Graphene Inside!' or "Thin as Paper, Strong as The Hulk" still seem a long way away, but they have just come a little closer into focus.

Image: IBM

Note: After first posting, I was able to reach IBM PR which helped me decipher their press release. The green/blue image shows a "polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon," (PAH), not a buckminsterfullerene, as my original caption stated. IBM took pictures of both. It describes the PAH as "like a graphene flake." Thanks for ''splainin, IBM. -- MH

More graphene goodies and other material from SmartPlanet:

— By on September 13, 2012, 9:47 PM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure