J. Lawrence, G. C. Sosso, L. Đorđević, H. Pinfold, D. Bonifazi, G. Costantini.
Nat. Commun., 2020, 11, 2103.
Scanning tunnelling microscopy (STM) is commonly used to identify on-surface molecular self-assembled structures. However, its limited ability to reveal only the overall shape of molecules and their relative positions is not always enough to fully solve a supramolecular structure. Here, we analyse the assembly of a brominated polycyclic aromatic molecule on Au(111) and demonstrate that standard STM measurements cannot conclusively establish the nature of the intermolecular interactions. By performing high-resolution STM with a CO-functionalised tip, we clearly identify the location of rings and halogen atoms, determining that halogen bonding governs the assemblies. This is supported by density functional theory calculations that predict a stronger interaction energy for halogen rather than hydrogen bonding and by an electron density topology analysis that identifies characteristic features of halogen bonding. A similar approach should be able to solve many complex 2D supramolecular structures, and we predict its increasing use in molecular nanoscience at surfaces.