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Quantification of the Surface Diffusion of Tripodal Binding Motifs on Graphene Using Scanning Electrochemical Microscopy

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Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853-1301, United States
Cite this: J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2012, 134, 14, 6224–6236
Publication Date (Web):March 12, 2012
Copyright © 2012 American Chemical Society

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    The surface diffusion of a cobalt bis-terpyridine, Co(tpy)2-containing tripodal compound (1·2PF6), designed to noncovalently adsorb to graphene through three pyrene moieties, has been studied by scanning electrochemical microscopy (SECM) on single-layer graphene (SLG). An initial boundary approach was designed in which picoliter droplets (radii ∼15–50 μm) of the tripodal compound were deposited on an SLG electrode, yielding microspots in which a monolayer of the tripodal molecules is initially confined. The time evolution of the electrochemical activity of these spots was detected at the aqueous phosphate buffer/SLG interface by SECM, in both generation/collection (G/C) and feedback modes. The tripodal compound microspots exhibit differential reactivity with respect to the underlying graphene substrate in two different electrochemical processes. For example, during the oxygen reduction reaction, adsorbed 1·2PF6 tripodal molecules generate more H2O2 than the bare graphene surface. This product was detected with spatial and temporal resolution using the SECM tip. The tripodal compound also mediates the oxidation of a Fe(II) species, generated at the SECM tip, under conditions in which SLG shows slow interfacial charge transfer. In each case, SECM images, obtained at increasing times, show a gradual decrease in the electrochemical response due to radial diffusion of the adsorbed molecules outward from the microspots onto the unfunctionalized areas of the SLG surface. This response was fit to a simple surface diffusion model, which yielded excellent agreement between the two experiments for the effective diffusion coefficients: Deff = 1.6 (±0.9) × 10–9 cm2/s and Deff = 1.5 (±0.6) × 10–9 cm2/s for G/C and feedback modes, respectively. Control experiments ruled out alternative explanations for the observed behavior, such as deactivation of the Co(II/III) species or of the SLG, and verified that the molecules do not diffuse when confined to obstructed areas. The noncovalent nature of the surface functionalization, together with the surface reactivity and mobility of these molecules, provides a means to couple the superior electronic properties of graphene to compounds with enhanced electrochemical performance, a key step toward developing dynamic electrode surfaces for sensing, electrocatalysis, and electronic applications.

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    Experimental details of graphene growth, supporting experiments for the characterization of 1·2PF6 activity, and a complete description of the simulation model. This material is available free of charge via the Internet at

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