Automated synthesis allows for discovery of unexpected charge transport behavior in organic molecules
Automated synthesis platform in the Molecule Marker Lab. Credit: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

A team from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has demonstrated a major breakthrough in using automated synthesis to discover new molecule for organic electronics applications.

A game-changer in the field of organic electronics and beyond is the technology that enabled the discovery. Using automated synthesis, the team was able to quickly find a new mechanism for high conductance by scanning through a library of molecule with precisely defined structures. The first major result from the Molecule Maker Lab has just been reported in Nature Communications and is located at the University of Illinois.

Charles M. Schroeder is the James Economy Professor in materials science and engineering and a professor in chemical and biomolecular engineering. The goal of the project was to find a new molecule with strong conductivity that could be used in electronics. To understand how the side chains affected conductance, the team had to systematically add many different side chains to the molecular backbones.

The first stage of the project consisted of synthesizing a large library of molecules. If the synthesis had been done with conventional methods, it would have taken a long time. The Molecule Maker Lab was able to avoid that effort by using their automated synthesis platform.

Edward R. Jira is a student in chemical and biomolecular engineering who had a leading role in the project. A single type of reaction is used repeatedly to couple the building blocks together as needed, and we can access a huge array of different structures for different applications.

Imagine snapping Legos together.

The Lego-brick analogy was used to explain why the synthesizer was so valuable to the experiments. Once the surprisingly fast state was discovered, we could take the molecule apart piece by piece, and swap in different Lego bricks to understand the structure/function relationships.

The essence of the discovery was explained by the student who studied the molecule generated by the synthesizer. The team discovered that the high conductance is dependent on concentration. The reason for the high conductivity is that the long alkyl side chains promote surface adsorption, which results in flattening out of the molecule so that electrons can flow through them more efficiently.

Burke, who is the May and Ving Lee Professor for Chemical Innovation and a professor of chemistry, called the building-block approach a powerful engine for both discovering function and understanding function.

The discovery of conductance is significant for the field of organic electronics.

Semiconductor-metal interface are used in electronic devices. The surprising find of a high conductance state caused by metallic interface can pave the way to new design for highly efficient charge injection and collection across a wide range of electronic applications.

There are multiple benefits to organic electronic materials. Their use avoids the need for metals. For example, a beating heart could be bended and flexed by an organic electronics device that could be vital to some applications. Such organic devices could be designed to break down in the body, so that they don't work anymore.

Commercial products have some organic electronics. The screens of smart phones, watches, and TVs have organic light-emitting diodes. It is anticipated that organic solar cells will become a commercial success. The research community has only scratched the surface of organic electronics, and progress has been slowed by the lack of key materials discoveries.

The paper shows that we were able to design and synthesise large libraries for various applications.

Jeffrey S. Moore is a professor of chemistry and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor. The first of many discoveries will come from the Molecule Maker Lab.

The Molecule Maker Lab facilities will open up a new approach to research in that they offer artificial intelligence capabilities for predicting what molecule are likely to be worth making.

The Molecule Maker Lab facilities will eventually be made available to researchers outside ofUIUC. Burke wants the Lab to become a global epicenter of democratized molecular innovation, empowering people who are not molecular synthesis specialists to solve important research problems.

Burke thinks this is the beginning of something really special.

More information: Songsong Li et al, Using automated synthesis to understand the role of side chains on molecular charge transport, Nature Communications (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-29796-2 Journal information: Nature Communications Citation: Automated synthesis allows for discovery of unexpected charge transport behavior in organic molecules (2022, May 2) retrieved 2 May 2022 from This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.