Order from a Mess: The Growth of 5-Armchair Graphene Nanoribbons

Alejandro Berdonces-Layunta, Fabian Schulz, Fernando Aguilar-Galindo, James Lawrence, Mohammed S.G. Mohammed, Matthias Muntwiler, Jorge Lobo-Checa, Peter Liljeroth, Dimas G. De Oteyza*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


The advent of on-surface chemistry under vacuum has vastly increased our capabilities to synthesize carbon nanomaterials with atomic precision. Among the types of target structures that have been synthesized by these means, graphene nanoribbons (GNRs) have probably attracted the most attention. In this context, the vast majority of GNRs have been synthesized from the same chemical reaction: Ullmann coupling followed by cyclodehydrogenation. Here, we provide a detailed study of the growth process of five-atom-wide armchair GNRs starting from dibromoperylene. Combining scanning probe microscopy with temperature-dependent XPS measurements and theoretical calculations, we show that the GNR growth departs from the conventional reaction scenario. Instead, precursor molecules couple by means of a concerted mechanism whereby two covalent bonds are formed simultaneously, along with a concomitant dehydrogenation. Indeed, this alternative reaction path is responsible for the straight GNR growth in spite of the initial mixture of reactant isomers with irregular metal-organic intermediates that we find. The provided insight will not only help understanding the reaction mechanisms of other reactants but also serve as a guide for the design of other precursor molecules.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16552−16561
JournalACS Nano
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - 2021
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • dehydrogenation
  • graphene nanoribbon
  • on-surface synthesis
  • reaction pathway
  • scanning probe microscopy
  • Ullmann coupling
  • XPS


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