Direct mechanochemical cleavage of functional groups from graphene.
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Mechanical stress can drive chemical reactions and is unique in that the reaction product can depend on both the magnitude and the direction of the applied force. Indeed, this directionality can drive chemical reactions impossible through conventional means. However, unlike heat- or pressure-driven reactions, mechanical stress is rarely applied isometrically, obscuring how mechanical inputs relate to the force applied to the bond. Here we report an atomic force microscope technique that can measure mechanically induced bond scission on graphene in real time with sensitivity to atomic-scale interactions. Quantitative measurements of the stress-driven reaction dynamics show that the reaction rate depends both on the bond being broken and on the tip material. Oxygen cleaves from graphene more readily than fluorine, which in turn cleaves more readily than hydrogen. The technique may be extended to study the mechanochemistry of any arbitrary combination of tip material, chemical group and substrate.