Yong-Hoon Kim,* Hu Sung Kim, Juho Lee, Makusu Tsutsui,* and Tomoji Kawai
J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2017, 139, 8286-8294
First published: 24 May 2017
Molecule−electrode contact atomic structures are a critical factor that characterizes molecular devices, but their precise understanding and control still remain elusive. Based on combined first-principles calculations and single-molecule break junction experiments, we herein establish that the conductance of alkanedithiolate junctions can both increase and decrease with mechanical stretching, and the specific trend is determined by the S−Au linkage coordination number (CN) or the molecule−electrode contact atomic structure. Specifically, we find that the mechanical pulling results in the conductance increase for the junctions based on S−Au CN two and CN three contacts, while the conductance is minimally affected by stretching for junctions with the CN one contact and decreases upon the formation of Au monatomic chains. Detailed analysis unravels the mechanisms involving the competition between the stretching-induced upshift of the highest occupied molecular orbital−related states toward the Fermi level of electrodes and the deterioration of molecule−electrode electronic couplings in different contact CN cases. Moreover, we experimentally find a higher chance to observe the conductance enhancement mode under a faster elongation speed, which is explained by ab initio molecular dynamics simulations that reveal an important role of thermal fluctuations in aiding deformations of contacts into low-coordination configurations that include monatomic Au chains. Pointing out the insufficiency in previous notions of associating peak values in conductance histograms with specific contact atomic structures, this work resolves the controversy on the origins of ubiquitous multiple conductance peaks in S−Au-based single−molecule junctions.