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Keywords:

  • density functional calculations;
  • dyes/pigments;
  • molecular electronics;
  • pH sensors;
  • sensing;
  • single-molecule devices

Abstract

Sensors play a significant role in the detection of toxic species and explosives, and in the remote control of chemical processes. In this work, we report a single-molecule-based pH switch/sensor that exploits the sensitivity of dye molecules to environmental pH to build metal–molecule–metal (m-M-m) devices using the scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) break junction technique. Dyes undergo pH-induced electronic modulation due to reversible structural transformation between a conjugated and a nonconjugated form, resulting in a change in the HOMO–LUMO gap. The dye-mediated m-M-m devices react to environmental pH with a high on/off ratio (≈100:1) of device conductivity. Density functional theory (DFT) calculations, carried out under the non-equilibrium Green’s function (NEGF) framework, model charge transport through these molecules in the two possible forms and confirm that the HOMO–LUMO gap of dyes is nearly twice as large in the nonconjugated form as in the conjugated form.