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ConspectusThis Account provides an overview of our recent efforts to unravel charge transport characteristics of a metal-molecule-metal junction containing an individual π-conjugated molecule. The model system of our choice is an oligo(phenylene-ethynylene) consisting of three rings, in short OPE3, which represents a paradigmatic model system for molecular-scale electronics. Members of the OPE family are among the most studied in the field thanks to their simple and rigid structure, the possibility of chemically functionalizing them, and their clear transport characteristics. When investigating charge transport in molecular systems, two general directions can be distinguished: one in which assemblies composed of many molecules contacted in parallel are studied, while in the other a single molecule is investigated at a time. In the former approach, molecule-molecule interactions and ensemble-averaged quantities may play a role, thereby introducing broadening of spectral features and hindering the study of the behavior of individual molecules making it more difficult to deconvolute local and intrinsic molecular effects from collective ones. In contrast, single-molecule experiments directly probe individual molecular features and, when they are repeated many times, allow build up of a statistical representation of the changes introduced by, e.g., different junction configurations. Especially in recent years, experimental techniques have advanced such that now large sets of individual events can be measured and analyzed with statistical tools. To study individual single-molecule junctions, we use the break junction technique, in which two sharp movable electrodes are formed by breaking a thin metallic wire and used to contact a single or few molecules. By probing thousands of single-molecule junctions in different conditions, we show that their creation involves independent events justifying the statistical tools that are used. By combining room- and low-temperature data, we show that the dominant transport mechanism for electrons through the OPE3 molecule is off-resonant tunneling. The simplest model capturing transport details in this case is a single-level model characterized by three parameters: the level alignment of the frontier orbital with the Fermi energy of the leads and the electronic couplings to the leads. Variations in these parameters give a broad distribution (1 order of magnitude) in the observed conductance values, indicating that at the microscopic level both the hybridization with the metallic electrodes and the molecular electronic configuration can fluctuate. The low-temperature data show that these variations are due to abrupt changes in the configuration of the molecule in the junction leading to changes in either one of these parameters or both at the same time. The complementary information gained from different experiments is needed to build up a consistent and extended picture of the variability of molecular configurations, omnipresent in single-molecule studies. Knowledge of this variability can help one to better understand the behavior of molecules at the atomic level and at the metal-molecule interface in particular.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1359-1367
Number of pages9
JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
Volume51
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018

ID: 46783794