Theses Doctoral

Reactivity in the Single Molecule Junction

Starr, Rachel

In the last two decades, significant strides have been made towards utilizing the scanning tunneling microscope (STM) as a reaction chemistry tool, in addition to its primary use as an imaging instrument. Built off the STM, the STM-break junction (STM-BJ) technique was developed specifically for the reliable and reproducible measurement of properties of a single molecule suspended between two electrodes. These advances are crucial to the fields of molecular electronics and single-molecule reactivity, the latter also relating back to traditional bulk chemistry. By intelligently designing experiments and systems to probe with the STM and STM-BJ, we can begin to understand chemical processes on a deeper level than ever before.

Chapter 1 provides an overview of the recent work using the STM and STM-BJ to effect chemical transformations which involve the making and breaking of bonds. We contextualize this progress in terms of single-molecule manipulation and synthetic chemistry, to understand the implications and outlook of this field of study. Seminal surface-based reactions are discussed, in addition to reactions that occur in both solution and within the single molecule junction. Differences between STM and STM-BJ capabilities and limitations are detailed, and the challenges of translating these fundamental experiments into functional reactions are addressed.

Chapter 2 describes using the STM-BJ to study the binding of aryl iodides between gold electrodes. Important details regarding these binding modes, which were previously incompletely understood, are revealed via concrete experimental evidence. Our data suggests that this system, which is synthetically accessible, holds promise for forming the sought-after and highly conducting covalent gold-carbon bonds in situ and can be modulated with applied bias.

Chapter 3 builds upon the knowledge gained in Chapter 2, and focuses on the reactivity of aryl iodides in the junction. We demonstrate a new in situ reaction of an Ullmann coupling, or dimerization, of various biphenyl iodides. By strategically designing the molecules studied, we are also able to gain mechanistic insight into this process, which in the bulk still remains debated, as well as demonstrate a cross-coupling reaction. This project is ongoing as of the submission of this dissertation, so other findings and continuing experiments are included.

Chapter 4 transitions towards a different type of binder to gold, the cyclopropenylidene-based carbene. These amino-functionalized carbenes prove to be stronger linkers than N-heterocyclic carbenes, which are known binders to gold. Using a variety of surface analysis, imaging, and computational techniques, we explore the binding geometries and energies of cyclopropenylidenes, expanding the scope of carbene surface modifiers.

Chapter 5 summarizes this body of PhD research, suggests directions for future work, and concludes the dissertation. These works explore the binding and reactivity of molecules on gold surfaces and within the single molecule junction, improving upon the understanding of this newly burgeoning field. This thesis seeks to encourage future work on these and related systems, to continue refining our comprehension of both junction and bulk reaction chemistry processes.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Roy, Xavier Sylvain
Venkataraman, Latha
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 16, 2021