Gross received the highest honor of the American Physical Society for his work at the intersection of surface science and chemistry, developing and applying low-temperature atomic force microscopy to synthesize and characterize elusive molecules.
IBM Researcher Leo Gross was recently awarded the American Physical Society’s highest awards for his contributions to chemistry and surface science. Gross developed a method to resolve individual molecules with atomic resolution. The method is based on atomic force microscopy, adding a twist that Gross came up with in 2009 while a postdoc at the IBM Research Zurich lab. The tip of the cantilever that scans the surface to be imaged has individual atoms or molecules attached to it, which makes it possible to even resolve differences of bond length in individual molecules.
But the benefits of Gross’ technique go beyond imaging. He also used that method to study novel tip-induced reactions and elusive molecules that chemists had long tried to get a hold on, such as triangulene and cyclocarbon. The molecules had previously proven too hard to synthesize or too short-lived for chemists to conduct experiments on. Gross changed that when he first made and characterized them using atom manipulation with the tip of an atomic force microscope (AFM).
Gross also demonstrated that single electron charges can be detected by AFM with atomic spatial resolution and studied charged molecules, charge distributions, and charge transfer of molecular systems. Some of these processes are key to better understand the way proteins work when fulfilling vital functions in living organisms.
Gross’ research is a testament to IBM’s long-term commitment to advancing basic science and engineering. The techniques he has developed build on landmark inventions by other IBM researchers over decades. The scanning tunneling microscope (STM), for example, was invented by Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer, a feat for which they were awarded the Physics Nobel Prize in 1986. The AFM, on the other hand, was thought up Binnig, and first built by Binnig, Christoph Gerber, and Calvin Quate.
The three went on to win the 2016 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience. Another IBM researcher and Kavli Prize winner, Donald M. Eigler, pioneered the atom manipulation techniques used for picking up and placing individual atoms and molecules. Gross took advantage of this technique to achieve defined tip functionalization that provided the high resolution for imaging molecules. And Gross used atom manipulation techniques to generate elusive and novel molecules.