Physical Review Letters

Charge-Induced Structural Changes in a Single Molecule Investigated by Atomic Force Microscopy

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Intramolecular structural relaxations occurring upon electron transfer are crucial in determining the rate of redox reactions. Here, we demonstrate that subangstrom structural changes occurring upon single-electron charging can be quantified by means of atomically resolved atomic force microscopy (AFM) for the case of single copper(II)phthalocyanine (CuPc) molecules deposited on an ultrathin NaCl film. Imaging the molecule in distinct charge states (neutral and anionic) reveals characteristic differences in the AFM contrast. In comparison to density functional theory simulations these changes in contrast can be directly related to relaxations of the molecule's geometric structure upon charging. The dominant contribution arises from a nonhomogeneous vertical relaxation of the molecule, caused by a change in the electrostatic interaction with the surface.