Electrochemical characterization of thin film electrodes toward developing a DNA transistor

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The DNA-Transistor is a device designed to control the translocation of single-stranded DNA through a solid-state nanopore. Functionality of the device is enabled by three electrodes exposed to the DNA-containing electrolyte solution within the pore and the application of a dynamic electrostatic potential well between the electrodes to temporarily trap a DNA molecule. Optimizing the surface chemistry and electrochemical behavior of the device is a necessary (but by no means sufficient) step toward the development of a functional device. In particular, effects to be eliminated are (i) electrochemically induced surface alteration through corrosion or reduction of the electrode surface and (ii) formation of hydrogen or oxygen bubbles inside the pore through water decomposition. Even though our motivation is to solve problems encountered in DNA transistor technology, in this paper we report on generic surface chemistry results. We investigated a variety of electrode-electrolyte-solvent systems with respect to their capability of suppressing water decomposition and maintaining surface integrity. We employed cyclic voltammetry and long-term amperometry as electrochemical test schemes, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, atomic force microscopy, and scanning, as well as transmission electron microscopy as analytical tools. Characterized electrode materials include thin films of Ru, Pt, nonstoichiometric TiN, and nonstoichiometric TiN carrying a custom-developed titanium oxide layer, as well as custom-oxidized nonstoichiometric TiN coated with a monolayer of hexadecylphosphonic acid (HDPA). We used distilled water as well as aqueous solutions of poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG-300) and glycerol as solvents. One millimolar KCl was employed as electrolyte in all solutions. Our results show that the HDPA-coated custom-developed titanium oxide layer effectively passivates the underlying TiN layer, eliminating any surface alterations through corrosion or reduction within a voltage window from -2 V to +2 V. Furthermore, we demonstrated that, by coating the custom-oxidized TiN samples with HDPA and increasing the concentration of PEG-300 or glycerol in aqueous 1 mM KCl solutions, water decomposition was suppressed within the same voltage window. Water dissociation was not detected when combining custom-oxidized HDPA-coated TiN electrodes with an aqueous 1 mM KCl-glycerol solution at a glycerol concentration of at least 90%. These results are applicable to any system that requires nanoelectrodes placed in aqueous solution at voltages that can activate electrochemical processes. © 2010 American Chemical Society.