Published: 1 March 2018, 17:00
We report high-resolution surface morphology and friction force maps of polycrystalline organic thin films derived by deposition of the n-type perylene diimide semiconductor PDI8-CN2. We show that the in-plane molecular arrangement into ordered, cofacial slip-stacked rows results in a largely anisotropic surface structure, with a characteristic sawtooth corrugation of a few Ångstroms wavelength and height. Load-controlled experiments reveal different types of friction contrast between the alternating sloped and stepped regions, with transitions from atomic-scale dissipative stick-slip to smooth sliding with ultralow friction within the surface unit cell. Notably, such a rich phenomenology is captured under ambient conditions. We demonstrate that friction contrast is well reproduced by numerical simulations assuming a reduced corrugation of the tip-molecule potential nearby the step edges. We propose that the side alkyl chains pack into a compact low-surface-energy overlayer, and friction modulation reflects periodic heterogeneity of chains bending properties and subsurface anchoring to the perylene cores.