Single-Molecule Spectroscopy of Interfacial Electron Transfer

It is widely appreciated that single-molecule spectroscopy (SMS) can be used to measure properties of individual molecules which would normally be obscured in an ensemble-averaged measurement. In this report we show how SMS can be used to measure photoinduced interfacial electron transfer (IET) and back electron transfer rates in a prototypical chromophore−bridge−electrode nonadiabatic electron transfer system. N-(1-hexylheptyl)-N‘-(12-carboxylicdodecyl)perylene-3,4,9,10-tetracarboxylbisimide was synthesized and incorporated into mixed self-assembled monolayers (SAMs) on an ITO (tin-doped indium oxide, a p-type semiconductor) electrode. Single-molecule fluorescence time trajectories from this system reveals “blinks”, momentary losses in fluorescence (>20 ms to seconds in duration), which are attributed to discrete electron transfer events:  electron injection from the perylene chromophore into the conduction band of the ITO leads to the loss of fluorescence, and charge recombination (back electron transfer) leads to the return of fluorescence. Such blinks are not observed when an electrode is not present. The fluorescence trajectories were analyzed to obtain the forward and back electron rates; the measured rates are found to lie in the millisecond to second regime. Different rates are observed for different molecules, but the lifetime distributions for the forward or back electron transfer for any given molecule are well fit by single exponential kinetics. The methodology used is applicable to a wide variety of systems and can be used to study the effects of distance, orientation, linker, environment, etc. on electron transfer rates. The results and methodology have implications for molecular electronics, where understanding and controlling the range of possible behaviors inherent to molecular systems will likely be as important as understanding the individual behavior of any given molecule.