Electrochemical protection of thin film electrodes in solid state nanopores

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Solid state nanopores are a core element of next-generation single molecule tools in the field of nano-biotechnology. Thin film electrodes integrated into a pore can interact with charges and fields within the pore. In order to keep the nanopore open and thus functional electrochemically induced surface alteration of electrode surfaces and bubble formation inside the pore have to be eliminated. This paper provides electrochemical analyses of nanopores drilled into TiN membranes which in turn were employed as thin film electrodes. We studied physical pore integrity and the occurrence of water decomposition yielding bubble formation inside pores by applying voltages between - 4.5 and + 4.5V to membranes in various protection stages continuously for up to 24h. During potential application pores were exposed to selected electrolyte-solvent systems. We have investigated and successfully eliminated electrochemical pore oxidation and reduction as well as water decomposition inside nanopores of various diameters ranging from 3.5 to 25nm in 50nm thick TiN membranes by passivating the nanopores with a plasma-oxidized layer and using a 90% solution of glycerol in water as KCl solvent. Nanopore ionic conductances were measured before and after voltage application in order to test for changes in pore diameter due to electrochemical oxidation or reduction. TEM imaging was used to confirm these observations. While non-passivated pores were electrochemically oxidized, neither electrochemical oxidation nor reduction was observed for passivated pores. Bubble formation through water decomposition could be detected in non-passivated pores in KCl/water solutions but was not observed in 90% glycerol solutions. The use of a protective self-assembled monolayer of hexadecylphosphonic acid (HDPA) was also investigated. © 2011 IOP Publishing Ltd.