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Molecular Dynamics Study of Naturally Occurring Defects in Self-Assembled Monolayer Formation

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journal contribution
posted on 23.02.2010, 00:00 by G. Gannon, J. C. Greer, J. A. Larsson, D. Thompson
One of the major challenges for nanofabrication, in particular microcontact printing (μ-CP), is the control of molecular diffusion, or “ink spreading”, for the creation of nanopatterns with minimized “smudging” at pattern boundaries. In this study, fully atomistic computer simulations were used to measure the impact of naturally occurring domain boundaries on the diffusion of excess alkanethiol ink molecules on printed alkanethiol self-assembled monolayers (SAM). A periodic unit cell containing approximately one million atoms and with a surface area of 56 nm × 55 nm was used to model a hexadecanethiol SAM on Au(111), featuring SAM domain boundaries and a range of concentrations of excess hexadecanethiol ink molecules diffusing on top. This model was simulated for a total of approximately 80 ns of molecular dynamics. The simulations reveal that domain boundaries impede the diffusion of excess ink molecules and can, in some cases, permanently trap excess inks. There is competition between ink spreading and ink trapping, with the ink/SAM interaction strongly dependent on both the ink concentration and the SAM orientation at domain boundaries. SAM defects thus provide potential diffusion barriers for the control of excess ink spreading, and simulations also illustrate atom-scale mechanisms for the repair of damaged areas of the SAM via self-healing. The ability of domain boundaries to trap excess ink molecules is accounted for using an accessible volume argument, and trapping is discussed in relation to experimental efforts to reduce molecular spreading on SAMs for the creation of ultrahigh resolution nanopatterns.