Conformational Smear Characterization and Binning of Single-Molecule Conductance Measurements for Enhanced Molecular Recognition

Electronic conduction or charge transport through single molecules depends primarily on molecular structure and anchoring groups and forms the basis for a wide range of studies from molecular electronics to DNA sequencing. Several high-throughput nanoelectronic methods such as mechanical break junctions, nanopores, conductive atomic force microscopy, scanning tunneling break junctions, and static nanoscale electrodes are often used for measuring single-molecule conductance. In these measurements, “smearing” due to conformational changes and other entropic factors leads to large variances in the observed molecular conductance, especially in individual measurements. Here, we show a method for characterizing smear in single-molecule conductance measurements and demonstrate how binning measurements according to smear can significantly enhance the use of individual conductance measurements for molecular recognition. Using quantum point contact measurements on single nucleotides within DNA macromolecules, we demonstrate that the distance over which molecular junctions are maintained is a measure of smear, and the resulting variance in unbiased single measurements depends on this smear parameter. Our ability to identify individual DNA nucleotides at 20× coverage increases from 81.3% accuracy without smear analysis to 93.9% with smear characterization and binning (SCRIB). Furthermore, merely 7 conductance measurements (7× coverage) are needed to achieve 97.8% accuracy for DNA nucleotide recognition when only low molecular smear measurements are used, which represents a significant improvement over contemporary sequencing methods. These results have important implications in a broad range of molecular electronics applications from designing robust molecular switches to nanoelectronic DNA sequencing.