Kinked p-n junction nanowire probes for high spatial resolution sensing and intracellular recording

Zhe Jiang, Quan Qing, Ping Xie, Ruixuan Gao, Charles M. Lieber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


Semiconductor nanowires and other semiconducting nanoscale materials configured as field-effect transistors have been studied extensively as biological/chemical (bio/chem) sensors. These nanomaterials have demonstrated high-sensitivity from one- and two-dimensional sensors, although the realization of the ultimate pointlike detector has not been achieved. In this regard, nanoscale p-n diodes are attractive since the device element is naturally localized near the junction, and while nanowire p-n diodes have been widely studied as photovoltaic devices, their applications as bio/chem sensors have not been explored. Here we demonstrate that p-n diode devices can serve as a new and powerful family of highly localized biosensor probes. Designed nanoscale axial p-n junctions were synthetically introduced at the joints of kinked silicon nanowires. Scanning electron microscopy images showed that the kinked nanowire structures were achieved, and electrical transport measurements exhibited rectifying behavior with well-defined turn-on in forward bias as expected for a p-n diode. In addition, scanning gate microscopy demonstrated that the most sensitive region of these nanowires was localized near the kinked region at the p-n junction. High spatial resolution sensing using these p-n diode probes was carried out in aqueous solution using fluorescent charged polystyrene nanobeads. Multiplexed electrical measurements show well-defined single-nanoparticle detection, and experiments with simultaneous confocal imaging correlate directly the motion of the nanobeads with the electrical signals recorded from the p-n devices. In addition, kinked p-n junction nanowires configured as three-dimensional probes demonstrate the capability of intracellular recording of action potentials from electrogenic cells. These p-n junction kinked nanowire devices, which represent a new way of constructing nanoscale probes with highly localized sensing regions, provide substantial opportunity in areas ranging from bio/chem sensing and nanoscale photon detection to three-dimensional recording from within living cells and tissue.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1711-1716
Number of pages6
JournalNano Letters
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 14 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Nanosensor
  • diode
  • nanobioelectronics
  • nanoelectronic device
  • nanoprobe

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanical Engineering


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