Electrofluorochromism at the single-molecule level

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The interplay between the oxidation state and the optical properties of molecules is important for applications in displays, sensors, and molecular-based memories. The fundamental mechanisms occurring at the level of a single molecule have been difficult to probe. We used a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) to characterize and control the fluorescence of a single zinc-phthalocyanine radical cation adsorbed on a sodium chloride–covered gold (111) sample. The neutral and oxidized states of the molecule were identified on the basis of their fluorescence spectra, which revealed very different emission energies and vibronic fingerprints. The emission of the charged molecule was controlled by tuning the thickness of the insulator and the plasmons localized at the apex of the STM tip. In addition, subnanometric variations of the tip position were used to investigate the charging and electroluminescence mechanisms.

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