Dynamic bonding of metallic nanocontacts: Insights from experiments and atomistic simulations

MA Fernandez and C Sabater and W Dednam and JJ Palacios and MR Calvo and C Untiedt and MJ Caturla, PHYSICAL REVIEW B, 93, 085437 (2016).

DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevB.93.085437

The conductance across an atomically narrow metallic contact can be measured by using scanning tunneling microscopy. In certain situations, a jump in the conductance is observed right at the point of contact between the tip and the surface, which is known as "jump to contact" (JC). Such behavior provides a way to explore, at a fundamental level, how bonding between metallic atoms occurs dynamically. This phenomenon depends not only on the type of metal but also on the geometry of the two electrodes. For example, while some authors always find JC when approaching two atomically sharp tips of Cu, others find that a smooth transition occurs when approaching a Cu tip to an adatom on a flat surface of Cu. In an attempt to show that all these results are consistent, we make use of atomistic simulations; in particular, classical molecular dynamics together with density functional theory transport calculations to explore a number of possible scenarios. Simulations are performed for two different materials: Cu and Au in a 100 crystal orientation and at a temperature of 4.2 K. These simulations allow us to study the contribution of short-and long-range interactions to the process of bonding between metallic atoms, as well as to compare directly with experimental measurements of conductance, giving a plausible explanation for the different experimental observations. Moreover, we show a correlation between the cohesive energy of the metal, its Young's modulus, and the frequency of occurrence of a jump to contact.

Return to Publications page