Even the Odd Numbers Help: Failure Modes of SAM-Based Tunnel Junctions Probed via Odd-Even Effects Revealed in Synchrotrons and Supercomputers

Damien Thompson*, Christian A. Nijhuis*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

63 Citations (Scopus)


This Account describes a body of research in atomic level design, synthesis, physicochemical characterization, and macroscopic electrical testing of molecular devices made from ferrocene-functionalized alkanethiol molecules, which are molecular diodes, with the aim to identify, and resolve, the failure modes that cause leakage currents. The mismatch in size between the ferrocene headgroup and alkane rod makes waxlike highly dynamic self-assembled monolayers (SAMs) on coinage metals that show remarkable atomic-scale sensitivity in their electrical properties. Our results make clear that molecular tunnel junction devices provide an excellent testbed to probe the electronic and supramolecular structures of SAMs on inorganic substrates. Contacting these SAMs to a eutectic “EGaIn” alloy top-electrode, we designed highly stable long-lived molecular switches of the form electrode–SAM–electrode with robust rectification ratios of up to 3 orders of magnitude. The graphic that accompanies this conspectus displays a computed SAM packing structure, illustrating the lollipop shape of the molecules that gives dynamic SAM supramolecular structures and also the molecule-electrode van der Waals (vdW) contacts that must be controlled to form good SAM-based devices. In this Account, we first trace the evolution of SAM-based electronic devices and rationalize their operation using energy level diagrams. We describe the measurement of device properties using near edge X-ray absorption fine structure spectroscopy, cyclic voltammetry, and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy complemented by molecular dynamics and electronic structure calculations together with large numbers of electrical measurements. We discuss how data obtained from these combined experimental/simulation codesign studies demonstrate control over the supramolecular and electronic structure of the devices, tuning odd–even effects to optimize inherent packing tendencies of the molecules in order to minimize leakage currents in the junctions. It is now possible, but still very costly to create atomically smooth electrodes and we discuss progress toward masking electrode imperfections using cooperative molecule-electrode contacts that are only accessible by dynamic SAM structures. Finally, the unique ability of SAM devices to achieve simultaneously high and atom-sensitive electrical switching is summarized and discussed. While putting these structures to work as real world electronic devices remains very challenging, we speculate on the scientific and technological advances that are required to further improve electronic and supramolecular structure, toward the creation of high yields of long-lived molecular devices with (very) large, reproducible rectification ratios.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2061-2069
JournalAccounts of chemical research
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2016
Externally publishedYes


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