Using scanning tunneling spectroscopy, we study the transport of electrons through C(60) molecules on different metal surfaces. When electrons tunnel through a molecule, they may excite molecular vibrations. A fingerprint of these processes is a characteristic sub-structure in the differential conductance spectra of the molecular junction reflecting the onset of vibrational excitation. Although the intensity of these processes is generally weak, they become more important as the resonant character of the transport mechanism increases. The detection of single vibrational levels crucially depends on the energy level alignment and lifetimes of excited states. In the limit of large current densities, resonant electron-vibration coupling leads to an energy accumulation in the molecule, which eventually leads to its decomposition. With our experiments on C(60) we are able to depict a molecular scale picture of how electrons interact with the vibrational degrees of freedom of single molecules in different transport regimes. This understanding helps in the development of stable molecular devices, which may also carry a switchable functionality.
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