Computing with molecules: a big step in molecular spintronics

International research team lead by Kiel University developed more stable spin states

© Jan-Simon von Glasenapp und Rainer Herges

Mit einem winzigen Stromstoß über die Spitze eines Rastertunnelmikroskops lassen sich die neu entwickelten Moleküle schalten und verändern dadurch ihren Spinzustand.

Spintronics or spin electronics in contrast to conventional electronics uses the spin of electrons for sensing, information storage, transport, and processing. Potential advantages are nonvolatility, increased data processing speed, decreased electric power consumption, and higher integration densities compared to conventional semiconductor devices. Molecular spintronics aims for the ultimate step towards miniaturization of spintronics by striving to actively control the spin states of individual molecules. Chemists and physicists at Kiel University joined forces with colleagues from France, and Switzerland to design, deposit and operate single molecular spin switches on surfaces. The newly developed molecules feature stable spin states and do not lose their functionality upon adsorption on surfaces. They present their results in the current issue of the renowned journal Nature Nanotechnology.

The spin states of the new compounds are stable for at least several days. "This is achieved by a design trick that resembles the fundamental electronic circuits in computers, the so-called flip-flops. Bistability or switching (between 0 and 1) is realized by looping the output signal back to the input", says experimental physicist Dr. Manuel Gruber from Kiel University.  The new molecules have three properties that are coupled with each other in such a feedback loop: their shape (planar or flat), the proximity of two subunits, called coordination (yes or no), and the spin state (high-spin or low-spin). Thus, the molecules are locked either in one or the other state. Upon sublimation and deposition on a silver surface, the switches self-assemble into highly ordered arrays. Each molecule in such an array can be separately addressed with a scanning tunneling microscope and switched between the states by applying a positive or negative voltage. 

„Our new spin switch enables us to realise in just one molecule what takes several components like transistors and resistors in conventional electronics. That means a big step towards a further miniaturisation", Dr. Manuel Gruber und organic chemist Prof. Dr. Rainer Herges explain. A next step will be to increase the complexity of the compounds to implement more sophisticated operations.

Molecules are the smallest constructions that can be designed and built with atomic precision and predictable properties. Their response to electrical or optical stimuli and their custom-designed chemical and physical functionality make them unique candidates to develop new classes of devices such as controllable surface catalysts or optical devices.

Original publication:

Alexander Köbke, Florian Gutzeit, Fynn Röhricht, Alexander Schlimm, Jan Grunwald, Felix Tuczek, Michal Studniarek, Danilo Longo, Fadi Choueikani, Edwige Otero, Philippe Ohresser, Sebastian Rohlf, Sven Johannsen, Florian Diekmann, Kai Rossnagel, Alexander Weismann, Torben Jasper-Toennies, Christian Näther, Rainer Herges, Richard Berndt, Manuel Gruber, Reversible coordination-induced spin-state switching in complexes on metal surfaces,  Nature Nanotechnology (2019), DOI: 10.1038/s41565-019-0594-8


Scientific Graphic
© Rainer Herges

The new molecule has three properties. Only two combinations of these properties are stable. Switched between the different states is achieved by applying tiny tunneling currents.


About the research area KiNSIS

Details, which are only a millionth of a millimetre in size: this is what the priority research area "Kiel Nano, Surface and Interface Science – KiNSIS" at Kiel University has been working on. In the nano-cosmos, different laws prevail than in the macroscopic world - those of quantum physics. Through intensive, interdisciplinary cooperation between physics, chemistry, engineering and life sciences, the priority research area aims to understand the systems in this dimension and to implement the findings in an application-oriented manner. Molecular machines, innovative sensors, bionic materials, quantum computers, advanced therapies and much more could be the result. More information at


Prof. Dr. Rainer Herges
Otto Diels Institute of Organic Chemistry
+49 (0)431 880 2440


Dr. rer. nat. Manuel Gruber
Surface Physics
+49 (0)431 880 5091


Julia Siekmann
Science Communication Officer, Research area Kiel Nano Surface and Interface Sciences