Letters to Nature

Nature 408, 67-69 (2 November 2000) | doi:10.1038/35040518; Received 6 April 2000; Accepted 24 August 2000

A nanometre-scale electronic switch consisting of a metal cluster and redox-addressable groups

David I. Gittins, Donald Bethell, David J. Schiffrin & Richard J. Nichols

  1. Centre for Nanoscale Science, Department of Chemistry, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, L69 7ZD, UK

Correspondence to: Richard J. Nichols Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to R.J.N. (e-mail: Email: nichols@liv.ac.uk).

So-called bottom-up fabrication methods aim to assemble and integrate molecular components exhibiting specific functions into electronic devices that are orders of magnitude smaller than can be fabricated by lithographic techniques. Fundamental to the success of the bottom-up approach is the ability to control electron transport across molecular components. Organic molecules containing redox centres—chemical species whose oxidation number, and hence electronic structure, can be changed reversibly—support resonant tunnelling1, 2 and display promising functional behaviour when sandwiched as molecular layers between electrical contacts3, 4, but their integration into more complex assemblies remains challenging. For this reason, functionalized metal nanoparticles have attracted much interest5, 6, 7: they exhibit single-electron characteristics8, 9, 10 (such as quantized capacitance charging) and can be organized11, 12, 13 through simple self-assembly methods into well ordered structures, with the nanoparticles at controlled locations. Here we report scanning tunnelling microscopy measurements showing that organic molecules containing redox centres can be used to attach metal nanoparticles to electrode surfaces and so control the electron transport between them. Our system consists of gold nanoclusters a few nanometres across and functionalized with polymethylene chains that carry a central, reversibly reducible bipyridinium moiety14, 15. We expect that the ability to electronically contact metal nanoparticles via redox-active molecules, and to alter profoundly their tunnelling properties by charge injection into these molecules, can form the basis for a range of nanoscale electronic switches.