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Length Dependent Transport and Polaron Hopping Bottlenecks in Long Thiophene-Containing π-Conjugated Molecular Wires

Smith, C. E.; Odoh, S. O.; Ghosh, S.; Gagliardi, L.; Cramer, C. J.; Frisbie, C. D.
J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2015, 137, 15732 (doi:10.1021/jacs.5b07400).

Self-assembled conjugated molecular wires containing thiophene up to 6 nm in length were grown layer-by-layer using click chemistry. Reflection-absorption infrared spectroscopy, ellipsometry and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy were used to follow the stepwise growth. The electronic structure of the conjugated wires was studied with cyclic voltammetry and UV-vis spectroscopy as well as computationally with density functional theory (DFT). The current-voltage curves (±1 V) of the conjugated molecular wires were measured with conducting probe atomic force microscopy (CP-AFM) in which the molecular wire film bound to a gold substrate was contacted with a conductive AFM probe. By systematically measuring the low bias junction resistance as a function of length for molecules 1-4 nm long, we extracted the structure dependent tunneling attenuation factor (β) of 3.4 nm-1 and a contact resistance of 220 kΩ. The crossover from tunneling to hopping transport was observed at a molecular length of 4-5 nm with an activation energy of 0.35 eV extracted from Arrhenius plots of resistance versus temperature. DFT calculations revealed localizations of spin densities (polarons) on molecular wire radical cations. The calculations were employed to gauge transition state energies for hopping of polarons along wire segments. Individual estimated transition state energies were 0.2-0.4 eV, in good agreement with the experimental activation energy. The transition states correspond to flattening of dihedral angles about specific imine bonds. These results open up possibilities to further explore the influence of molecular architecture on hopping transport in molecular junctions, and highlight the utility of DFT to understand charge localization and associated hopping-based transport.