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Strain-Induced asymmetry and on-site dynamics of silicon defects in graphene...

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Carbon Trends
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In the last decade, the atomically-focused electron beams utilized in scanning transmission electron microscopes (STEMs) have been shown to induce a broad set of local structural transformations in materials, opening pathways for directing material synthesis and modification atom-by-atom. The mechanisms underlying these transformations remain largely unknown, due to the intractability of modeling the myriad of reaction pathways that can be accessed through high-energy electron scattering. The information on materials’ structure and dynamics that can be extracted from STEM images is similarly left underexplored. Here, we report the observation of anomalous on-site dynamics of individual silicon impurity atoms in graphene during STEM imaging. Density functional theory-based structural optimizations of anisotropically-strained molecular nanographenes reveal two distinct (but nearly degenerate) stable structures for four-fold coordinated silicon impurities, where interconversion between the two structures manifests slight changes of the silicon position within the lattice site. Implications for defect-based strain engineering in graphene are discussed.