Understanding the chemical and physical properties of surfaces at the molecular level has become increasingly relevant in the fields of medicine, semiconductors, rechargeable batteries, etc. For example, when developing new medications, determining the chemical properties of a pill’s coating can help to better control how the pill is digested or dissolved. In semiconductors, precise atomic level control of interfaces determines performance of computer chips. And in batteries, capacity and lifetime is often limited by electrode surface degradation.  These are just three examples of the many applications in which the understanding of surface coatings and molecular interactions are important.
The imaging of molecular surfaces has long been a complicated process within the field of physics. The images are often fuzzy, with limited spatial resolution, and researchers may not be able to distinguish different types of molecules, let alone how the molecules interact with each other. But it is precisely this–molecular interactions–which control the function and performance of molecular materials and surfaces.  In a new paper published in Nano Letters, JILA Fellow Markus Raschke and graduate student Thomas Gray describe how they developed a way to image and visualize how surface molecules couple and interact with quantum precision. The team believes that their nanospectroscopy method could be used for molecular engineering to develop better molecular surfaces, with controlled properties for molecular electronic, photonic, or biomedical applications.