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Self-assembled monolayer

Self assembled monolayers (SAMs) are surfaces consisting of a single layer of molecules on a substrate. Rather than having to use a technique such as chemical vapor deposition or molecular beam epitaxy to add molecules to a surface (often with poor control over the thickness of the molecular layer), self assembled monolayers can be prepared simply by adding a solution of the desired molecule onto the substrate surface and washing off the excess.

A common example is an alkane thiol on gold. Sulfur has particular affinity for gold, with a binding energy in the range of 20–35 kcal/mol (85–145 kJ/mol). An alkane with a thiol head group will stick to the gold surface and form an ordered assembly with the alkyl chains packing together due to van der Waals forces. For alkyl thiols on gold, the extended alkyl chains typically orient with an angle of ~30 degrees from the perpendicular of the substrate, and are assumed to be in a fully extended linear arrangement. There has been a great deal of work done determining the process by which alkyl thiol on gold assemblies are produced. It is generally thought that alkyl thiol molecules first bind to the gold surface in a 'lying down' position, where the alkyl chain tails of the molecules lie flat on the gold surface. The thiol interaction provides about 20–30 kcal/mol (85–130 kJ/mol) of driving force for the initial binding, which is modeled as a Langmuir binding isotherm. These binding events continue until the lying down molecules are dense enough on the surface to interact with each other. At some point the alkyl chains lift off the substrate and point outwards, tethered by the thiol anchor to the surface. There is a shift to a mixture of lying down molecules and island domains of upright alkyl chains, tilted at 30 degrees to the normal. At this stage binding kinetics become more complex and can no longer be modeled with a simple Langmuir binding isotherm. Over time the island domains merge and cover the bulk of the substrate, and the process can be compared to a 2-D crystallization process on a surface. Alkyl thiol SAMs exhibit grain boundaries and defects even after long periods of assembly. The initial stage of SAM formation usually takes minutes or less under the normal conditions of 0.1-10 mmol/L thiol concentration in a solvent. More ordering of the assembly can take place over days or months, depending on the molecules involved.

A variety of other self-assembled monolayers can be formed, although there is always debate about the degree to which systems self-assemble. Alkyl thiols are known to assemble on many metals, including silver, copper, palladium, and platinum. Alkyl silane molecules (e.g. octadecyltrichlorosilane) are another well-known example of self-assembly on silicon oxide surfaces and potentially be of greater technical relevance than alkyl thiol assembly on metals. Alkyl carboxylates are known to assemble on a variety of surfaces, such as aluminium and mica. Silicon has been used through the reaction of silicon hydride surface and a radical generator, such as heat, UV or radical initiator molecule, or with reagents such as Grignard and chlorosilanes. Once assembly has been accomplished, chemistry can be performed on the layer, especially if self-assembly places a reactive functional group on the outside of the monolayer.

SAMs have several applications in scientific research; they tend to have quite different chemical kinetics than the same molecules in another form, because of their exposed, 2-dimensional distribution, and as such are useful for some chemical and biochemical experiments. They can also be used for simulation of biological membranes and as substrates for cell culture. As technology develops to control the functional groups present in SAMS, either by direct deposition of molecules with those groups or by chemical modification of the layer, many other applications are also developing, for example in nanoscale fabrication of electronics.


  • I. Rubinstein, E. Sabatani, R. Maoz and J. Sagiv, Organized Monolayers on Gold Electrodes, in Electrochemical Sensors for Biomedical Applications, C.K.N. Li (Ed.), The Electrochemical Society 1986: 175.
  • N. Faucheux, R. Schweiss, K. Lützow, C. Werner, T. Groth. Self-assembled monolayers with different terminating groups as model substrates for cell adhesion studies. Biomaterials 2004;25:2721-2730.
  • S. R. Wasserman, Y. T. Tao, G. M. Whitesides. Structure and Reactivity of Alkylsiloxane Monolayers Formed by Reaction of Alkyltrichlorosilanes on Silicon Substrates. Langmuir 1989;5:1074-1087
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Self-assembled_monolayer". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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