Quantum tunneling in real space: Tautomerization of single porphycene molecules on the (111) surface of Cu, Ag, and Au
Journal article, 2018
Tautomerization in single porphycene molecules is investigated on Cu(111), Ag(111), and Au(111) surfaces by a combination of low-temperature scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) experiments and density functional theory (DFT) calculations. It is revealed that the trans configuration is the thermodynamically stable form of porphycene on Cu(111) and Ag(111), whereas the cis configuration occurs as a meta-stable form. The trans → cis or cis → trans conversion on Cu(111) can be induced in an unidirectional fashion by injecting tunneling electrons from the STM tip or heating the surface, respectively. We find that the cis → cis tautomerization on Cu(111) occurs spontaneously via tunneling, verified by the negligible temperature dependence of the tautomerization rate below ∼23 K. Van der Waals corrected DFT calculations are used to characterize the adsorption structures of porphycene and to map the potential energy surface of the tautomerization on Cu(111). The calculated barriers are too high to be thermally overcome at cryogenic temperatures used in the experiment and zero-point energy corrections do not change this picture, leaving tunneling as the most likely mechanism. On Ag(111), the reversible trans → cis conversion occurs spontaneously at 5 K and the cis → cis tautomerization rate is much higher than on Cu(111), indicating a significantly smaller tautomerization barrier on Ag(111) due to the weaker interaction between porphycene and the surface compared to Cu(111). Additionally, the STM experiments and DFT calculations reveal that tautomerization on Cu(111) and Ag(111) occurs with migration of porphycene along the surface; thus, the translational motion couples with the tautomerization coordinate. On the other hand, the trans and cis configurations are not discernible in the STM image and no tautomerization is observed for porphycene on Au(111). The weak interaction of porphycene with Au(111) is closest to the gas-phase limit and therefore the absence of trans and cis configurations in the STM images is explained either by the rapid tautomerization rate or the similar character of the molecular frontier orbitals of the trans and cis configurations.