Direct observation of a long-lived single-atom catalyst chiseling atomic structures in graphene

Wei Li Wang, Elton J G Santos, Bin Jiang, Ekin Dogus Cubuk, Colin Ophus, Alba Centeno, Amaia Pesquera, Amaia Zurutuza, Jim Ciston, Robert Westervelt, Efthimios Kaxiras

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

62 Citations (Scopus)


Fabricating stable functional devices at the atomic scale is an ultimate goal of nanotechnology. In biological processes, such high-precision operations are accomplished by enzymes. A counterpart molecular catalyst that binds to a solid-state substrate would be highly desirable. Here, we report the direct observation of single Si adatoms catalyzing the dissociation of carbon atoms from graphene in an aberration-corrected high-resolution transmission electron microscope (HRTEM). The single Si atom provides a catalytic wedge for energetic electrons to chisel off the graphene lattice, atom by atom, while the Si atom itself is not consumed. The products of the chiseling process are atomic-scale features including graphene pores and clean edges. Our experimental observations and first-principles calculations demonstrated the dynamics, stability, and selectivity of such a single-atom chisel, which opens up the possibility of fabricating certain stable molecular devices by precise modification of materials at the atomic scale.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNano Letters
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 12 Feb 2014

Publication series

NameNano Letters


  • Single-atom catalyst
  • graphene
  • molecular devices


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