Modeling ion sensing in molecular electronics

Caroline J. Chen, Manuel Smeu, Mark A. Ratner*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


We examine the ability of molecules to sense ions by measuring the change in molecular conductance in the presence of such charged species. The detection of protons (H+), alkali metal cations (M+), calcium ions (Ca2+), and hydronium ions (H3O+) is considered. Density functional theory (DFT) is used within the Keldysh non-equilibrium Green's function framework (NEGF) to model electron transport properties of quinolinedithiol (QDT, C9H7NS2), bridging Al electrodes. The geometry of the transport region is relaxed with DFT. The transport properties of the device are modeled with NEGF-DFT to determine if this device can distinguish among the M+ + QDT species containing monovalent cations, where M+ = H+, Li +, Na+, or K+. Because of the asymmetry of QDT in between the two electrodes, both positive and negative biases are considered. The electron transmission function and conductance properties are simulated for electrode biases in the range from -0.5 V to 0.5 V at increments of 0.1 V. Scattering state analysis is used to determine the molecular orbitals that are the main contributors to the peaks in the transmission function near the Fermi level of the electrodes, and current-voltage relationships are obtained. The results show that QDT can be used as a proton detector by measuring transport through it and can conceivably act as a pH sensor in solutions. In addition, QDT may be able to distinguish among different monovalent species. This work suggests an approach to design modern molecular electronic conductance sensors with high sensitivity and specificity using well-established quantum chemistry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number054709
JournalJournal of Chemical Physics
Issue number5
StatePublished - Feb 7 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy(all)
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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