Scanning Tunnelling Microscopy (STM) is opening up a new field of reaction dynamics, followed one-molecule-at-a-time, only recently applied to reaction at a metal surface. Here we combine experiment with theory in studying the motions involved in the successive breaking by electron-induced reaction of the two carbon–halogen bonds, C–Cl or C–I, in physisorbed p-dihalobenzene, to form chemisorbed halogen-atoms and organic residue on Cu(110) at 4.6 K. We characterize the geometry of the physisorbed initial state, p-dichlorobenzene (pDCB) and p-diiodobenzene (pDIB), at the copper surface, as well as the successive final states of both chemisorbed reaction products: electron #1 giving rise to the first halogen-atom and a chemisorbed halophenyl and electron #2 giving a second halogen-atom and a chemisorbed phenylene. The major findings reported are (a) the distance and angular distributions of the chemisorbed reaction products relative to the physisorbed reagent molecule, (b) an approximate ab initio calculation, coupled with classical molecular dynamics (MD), of the repulsion between the products on the excited potential-energy surfaces, pes*, following excitation by electrons #1 or #2, and subsequently MD on the ground-state pes with inclusion of inelastic surface-interaction as a means to understanding the above, (c) observation of the changing dynamics with the chemistry of the halogen-atom, and (d) characterization of the effects of secondary encounters among the reaction products in the constrained space of the more highly localized reaction of pDIB. Item (d) shows clear evidence of high reactivity in surface-aligned collisions with restricted impact parameter, termed Surface Aligned Reaction, SAR, characterized by STM.
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