Chemical Science

Characterizing aliphatic moieties in hydrocarbons with atomic force microscopy

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We designed and studied hydrocarbon model compounds by high-resolution noncontact atomic force microscopy. In addition to planar polycyclic aromatic moieties, these novel model compounds feature linear alkyl and cycloaliphatic motifs that exist in most hydrocarbon resources - particularly in petroleum asphaltenes and other petroleum fractions - or in lipids in biological samples. We demonstrate successful intact deposition by sublimation of the alkyl-aromatics, and differentiate aliphatic moieties from their aromatic counterparts which were generated from the former by atomic manipulation. The characterization by AFM in combination with atomic manipulation provides clear fingerprints of the aromatic and aliphatic moieties that will facilitate their assignment in a priori unknown samples.