Fabrication and characterization of metal-molecule-metal junctions by conducting probe atomic force microscopy

D. J. Wold, C. D. Frisbie

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Metal-molecule-metal junctions were fabricated by contacting Au-supported alkyl or benzyl thiol self-assembled monolayers (SAMs) with an Au-coated atomic-force microscope (AFM) tip. The tip-SAM microcontact is approximately 15 nm2, meaning the junction contains ∼75 molecules. Current-voltage (I-V) characteristics of these junctions were probed as a function of SAM thickness and load applied to the microcontact. The measurements showed: (1) the I-V traces were linear over ±0.3 V, (2) the junction resistance increased exponentially with alkyl chain length, (3) the junction resistance decreased with increasing load and showed two distinct power law scaling regimes, (4) resistances were a factor of 10 lower for junctions based on benzyl thiol SAMs compared to hexyl thiol SAMs having the same thickness, and (5) the junctions sustained fields up to 2 × 107 V/cm before breakdown. I-V characteristics determined for bilayer junctions involving alkane thiol-coated tips in contact with alkane thiol SAMs on Au also showed linear I-Vs over ±0.3 V and the same exponential dependence on thickness. The I-V behavior and the exponential dependence of resistance on alkyl chain length are consistent with coherent, nonresonant electron tunneling across the SAM. The calculated conductance decay constant (β) is 1.2 per methylene unit (∼1.1 Å-1) for both monolayer and bilayer junctions, in keeping with previous scanning tunneling microscope and electrochemical measurements of electron transfer through SAMs. These measurements show that conducting probe-AFM is a reliable method for fundamental studies of electron transfer through small numbers of molecules. The ability to vary the load on the microcontact is a unique characteristic of these junctions and opens opportunities for exploring electron transfer as a function of molecular deformation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5549-5556
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number23
StatePublished - Oct 3 2001


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