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Single Molecule Electrochemical Detection in Aqueous Solutions and Ionic Liquids

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journal contribution
posted on 20.10.2015 by Joshua C. Byers, Binoy Paulose Nadappuram, David Perry, Kim McKelvey, Alex W. Colburn, Patrick R. Unwin
Single molecule electrochemical detection (SMED) is an extremely challenging aspect of electroanalytical chemistry, requiring unconventional electrochemical cells and measurements. Here, SMED is reported using a “quad-probe” (four-channel probe) pipet cell, fabricated by depositing carbon pyrolytically into two diagonally opposite barrels of a laser-pulled quartz quadruple-barreled pipet and filling the open channels with electrolyte solution, and quasi-reference counter electrodes. A meniscus forms at the end of the probe covering the two working electrodes and is brought into contact with a substrate working electrode surface. In this way, a nanogap cell is produced whereby the two carbon electrodes in the pipet can be used to promote redox cycling of an individual molecule with the substrate. Anticorrelated currents generated at the substrate and tip electrodes, at particular distances (typically tens of nanometers), are consistent with the detection of single molecules. The low background noise realized in this droplet format opens up new opportunities in single molecule electrochemistry, including the use of ionic liquids, as well as aqueous solution, and the quantitative assessment and analysis of factors influencing redox cycling currents, due to a precisely known gap size.