Electrochemically controlled rectification in symmetric single-molecule junctions

Zixiao Wang, Julio L. Palma, Hui Wang, Junzhi Liu, Gang Zhou, M. R. Ajayakumar, Xinliang Feng, Wei Wang, Jens Ulstrup, Alexei A. Kornyshev, Yueqi Li, Nongjian Tao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Single-molecule electrochemical science has advanced over the past decades and now extends well beyond molecular imaging, to molecular electronics functions such as rectification and amplification. Rectification is conceptually the simplest but has involved mostly challenging chemical synthesis of asymmetric molecular structures or asymmetric materials and geometry of the two enclosing electrodes. Here we propose an experimental and theoretical strategy for building and tuning in situ (in operando) rectification in two symmetric molecular structures in electrochemical environment. The molecules were designed to conduct electronically via either their lowest unoccupied molecular orbital (LUMO; electron transfer) or highest occupied molecular orbital (HOMO; "hole transfer"). We used a bipotentiostat to control separately the electrochemical potential of the tip and substrate electrodes of an electrochemical scanning tunneling microscope (EC-STM), which leads to independent energy alignment of the STM tip, the molecule, and the STM substrate. By creating an asymmetric energy alignment, we observed single-molecule rectification of each molecule within a voltage range of ±0.5 V. By varying both the dominating charge transporting LUMO or HOMO energy and the electrolyte concentration, we achieved tuning of the polarity as well as the amplitude of the rectification. We have extended an earlier proposed theory that predicts electrolyte-controlled rectification to rationalize all the observed in situ rectification features and found excellent agreement between theory and experiments. Our study thus offers a way toward building controllable single-molecule rectifying devices without involving asymmetric molecular structures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2122183119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number39
StatePublished - Sep 27 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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