A means for controlling single-molecule switches by engineering their design and surrounding environment has been developed by a research team led by scientists at Penn State, Rice University, and the University of Oregon. The research demonstrates that single-molecule switches can be tailored to respond in predictable and stable ways, depending on the direction of the electric field applied to them--while some switches were engineered to turn on, others were engineered to turn off in response to the same applied electric field. The discovery, which is an essential step in the emerging field of molecular electronics, could further the development of nano-components--as small as molecules or atoms--for use in future generations of computers and other electronic devices.
Credit: Lewis et al.
Sequential STM images of FAPPB/R1ATC9 obtained at alternating sample biases of +1.0 and -1.0 V. The majority of the FAPPB molecules (apparent protrusions, displayed as bright spots) switch conductance states between OFF at +1.0 V and ON at -1.0 V sample bias. The red and green boxes follow one FAPPB molecule that exhibits this bias dependence. Imaging conditions: 4000 ‰ × 4000 ‰, I = 2 pA.
A paper describing the research results, titled "Molecular Engineering of the Polarity and Interactions of Molecular Electronic Switches," will be published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society on 21 December 2005. "This research confirms our hypothesis of how single-molecule switches work," says Penn State Professor of Chemistry and Physics Paul S. Weiss, whose lab tested the molecules. "Molecular switches eventually may become integrated into real electronics, but not until after someone discovers a way to wire them." In addition to Weiss, the research team includes Penelopie Lewis of Penn State, who now is at Columbia University; James Tour and Francisco Maya at Rice University; and James Hutchison and Christina Inman at the University of Oregon.
The research is the latest achievement in the teams ongoing studies of a family of stiff, stringy molecules known as as OPEs--oligo phenylene-ethynylenes--which the scientists have tailored in a number of ways to have a variety of physical, chemical, and electronic characteristics. The potential for using these OPE molecules as switches had been limited by their troublesome tendency to turn on and off at random, but Weiss and his colleagues recently discovered a way to reduce this random switching. In their current research, the scientists demonstrated, with a number of definitive experiments, how and why it is possible to control these molecular switches.
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