Submolecular Electronic Mapping of Single Cysteine Molecules by in Situ Scanning Tunneling Imaging

Jingdong Zhang, Qijin Chi, R. R. Nazmutdinov, T. T. Zinkicheva, M. D. Bronshtein

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


We have used L-Cysteine (Cys) as a model system to study the surface electronic structures of single molecules at the submolecular level in aqueous buffer solution by a combination of electrochemical scanning tunneling microscopy (in situ STM), electrochemistry including voltammetry and chronocoulometry, and density functional theory (DFT) computations. Cys molecules were assembled on single-crystal Au(110) surfaces to form a highly ordered monolayer with a periodic lattice structure of c(2 x 2) in which each unit contains two molecules; this conclusion is confirmed by the results of calculations based on a slab model for the metal surface. The ordered monolayer offers a platform for submolecular scale electronic mapping that is an issue of fundamental interest but remains a challenge in STM imaging science and surface chemistry. Single Cys molecules were mapped as three electronic subunits contributed mainly from three chemical moieties: thiol (-SH), carboxylic (-COOH), and amine (-NH2) groups. The contrasts of the three subunits depend on the environment (e.g., pH), which affects the electronic structure of adsorbed species. From the DFT computations focused on single molecules, rational analysis of the electronic structures is achieved to delineate the main factors that determine electronic contrasts in the STM images. These factors include the molecular orientation, the chemical nature of the elements or groups in the molecule, and the interaction of the elements with the substrate and tip. The computational images recast as constant-current-height profiles show that the most favorable molecular orientation is the adsorption of cysteine as a radical in zwitterionic form located on the bridge between the Au(I 10) atomic rows and with the amine and carboxyl group toward the solution bulk. The correlation between physical location and electronic contrast of the adsorbed molecules was also revealed by the computational data. The present study shows that cysteine packing in the adlayer on Au(110) from the liquid environment is in contrast to that from the ultrahigh-vacuum environment, suggesting solvent plays a role during molecular assembly.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)2232-2240
Publication statusPublished - 2009

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