Atomically precise control of rotational dynamics in charged rare-earth complexes on a metal surface

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Complexes containing rare-earth ions attract great attention for their technological applications ranging from spintronic devices to quantum information science. While charged rare-earth coordination complexes are ubiquitous in solution, they are challenging to form on materials surfaces that would allow investigations for potential solid-state applications. Here we report formation and atomically precise manipulation of rare-earth complexes on a gold surface. Although they are composed of multiple units held together by electrostatic interactions, the entire complex rotates as a single unit when electrical energy is supplied from a scanning tunneling microscope tip. Despite the hexagonal symmetry of the gold surface, a counterion at the side of the complex guides precise three-fold rotations and 100% control of their rotational directions is achieved using a negative electric field from the scanning probe tip. This work demonstrates that counterions can be used to control dynamics of rare-earth complexes on materials surfaces for quantum and nanomechanical applications.