A chiral molecular propeller designed for unidirectional rotations on a surface

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© 2019, The Author(s). Synthetic molecular machines designed to operate on materials surfaces can convert energy into motion and they may be useful to incorporate into solid state devices. Here, we develop and characterize a multi-component molecular propeller that enables unidirectional rotations on a material surface when energized. Our propeller is composed of a rotator with three molecular blades linked via a ruthenium atom to a ratchet-shaped molecular gear. Upon adsorption on a gold crystal surface, the two dimensional nature of the surface breaks the symmetry and left or right tilting of the molecular gear-teeth induces chirality. The molecular gear dictates the rotational direction of the propellers and step-wise rotations can be induced by applying an electric field or using inelastic tunneling electrons from a scanning tunneling microscope tip. By means of scanning tunneling microscope manipulation and imaging, the rotation steps of individual molecular propellers are directly visualized, which confirms the unidirectional rotations of both left and right handed molecular propellers into clockwise and anticlockwise directions respectively.