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  1. Abstract

    The nature of the processes at the origin of life that selected specific classes of molecules for broad incorporation into cells is controversial. Among those classes selected were polyisoprenoids and their derivatives. This paper tests the hypothesis that polyisoprenoids were early contributors to membranes in part because they (or their derivatives) could facilitate charge transport by quantum tunneling. It measures charge transport across self‐assembled monolayers (SAMs) of carboxyl‐terminated monoterpenoids (O2C(C9HX)) and alkanoates (O2C(C7HX)) with different degrees of unsaturation, supported on silver (AgTS) bottom electrodes, with Ga2O3/EGaIn top electrodes. Measurements of current density of SAMs of linear length‐matched hydrocarbons—both saturated and unsaturated—show that completely unsaturated molecules transport charge faster than those that are completely saturated by approximately a factor of ten. This increase in relative rates of charge transport correlates with the number of carbon–carbon double bonds, but not with the extent of conjugation. These results suggest that polyisoprenoids—even fully unsaturated—are not sufficiently good tunneling conductors for their conductivity to have favored them as building blocks in the prebiotic world.

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  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 12, 2024
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    This paper addresses the mechanism for rectification in molecular tunneling junctions based on alkanethiolates terminated by a bipyridine group complexed with a metal ion, that is, having the structure AuTS-S(CH2)11BIPY-MCl2 (where M = Co or Cu) with a eutectic indium–gallium alloy top contact (EGaIn, 75.5% Ga 24.5% In). Here, AuTS-S(CH2)11BIPY is a self-assembled monolayer (SAM) of an alkanethiolate with 4-methyl-2,2′-bipyridine (BIPY) head groups, on template-stripped gold (AuTS). When the SAM is exposed to cobalt(II) chloride, SAMs of the form AuTS-S(CH2)11BIPY-CoCl2 rectify current with a rectification ratio of r+ = 82.0 at ±1.0 V. The rectification, however, disappears (r+ = 1.0) when the SAM is exposed to copper(II) chloride instead of cobalt. We draw the following conclusions from our experimental results: (i) AuTS-S(CH2)11BIPY-CoCl2 junctions rectify current because only at positive bias (+1.0 V) is there an accessible molecular orbital (the LUMO) on the BIPY-CoCl2 moiety, while at negative bias (−1.0 V), neither the energy level of the HOMO or the LUMO lies between the Fermi levels of the electrodes. (ii) AuTS-S(CH2)11BIPY-CuCl2 junctions do not rectify current because there is an accessible molecular orbital on the BIPY-CuCl2 moiety at both negative and positive bias (the HOMO is accessible at negative bias, and the LUMO is accessible at positive bias). The difference in accessibility of the HOMO levels at −1.0 V causes charge transfer—at negative bias—to take place via Fowler–Nordheim tunneling in BIPY-CoCl2 junctions, and via direct tunneling in BIPY-CuCl2 junctions. This difference in tunneling mechanism at negative bias is the origin of the difference in rectification ratio between BIPY-CoCl2 and BIPY-CuCl2 junctions. 
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