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Structural Engineering of the Barrier Oxide Layer of Nanoporous Anodic Alumina for Iontronic Sensing

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journal contribution
posted on 2022-04-29, 12:09 authored by Juan Wang, Cheryl Suwen Law, Satyathiran Gunenthiran, Huong Nguyen Que Tran, Khoa Nhu Tran, Siew Yee Lim, Andrew D. Abell, Abel Santos
The hemispherical barrier oxide layer (BOL) closing the bottom tips of hexagonally distributed arrays of cylindrical nanochannels in nanoporous anodic alumina (NAA) membranes is structurally engineered by anodizing aluminum substrates in three distinct acid electrolytes at their corresponding self-ordering anodizing potentials. These nanochannels display a characteristic ionic current rectification (ICR) signal between high and low ionic conduction states, which is determined by the thickness and chemical composition of the BOL and the pH of the ionic electrolyte solution. The rectification efficiency of the ionic current associated with the flow of ions across the anodic BOL increases with its thickness, under optimal pH conditions. The inner surface of the nanopores in NAA membranes was chemically modified with thiol-terminated functional molecules. The resultant NAA-based iontronic system provides a model platform to selectively detect gold metal ions (Au3+) by harnessing dynamic ICR signal shifts as the core sensing principle. The sensitivity of the system is proportional to the thickness of the barrier oxide layer, where NAA membranes produced in phosphoric acid at 195 V with a BOL thickness of 232 ± 6 nm achieve the highest sensitivity and low limit of detection in the sub-picomolar range. This study provides exciting opportunities to engineer NAA structures with tailorable ICR signals for specific applications across iontronic sensing and other nanofluidic disciplines.