We show that scaling a silicon nanotransistor sensor down to ~25 nm provides a unique opportunity to understand and exploit ion-specific surface interactionsEquipe LMCT
Despite being ubiquitous in the fields of chemistry and biology, the ion-specific effects of electrolytes pose major challenges for researchers. A lack of understanding about ion-specific surface interactions has hampered the development and application of materials for (bio-)chemical sensor applications. Here, we show that scaling a silicon nanotransistor sensor down to ~25 nm provides a unique opportunity to understand and exploit ion-specific surface interactions, yielding a surface that is highly sensitive to cations and inert to pH. The unprecedented sensitivity of these devices to Na+ and divalent ions can be attributed to an overscreening effect via molecular dynamics. The surface potential of multi-ion solutions is well described by the sum of the electrochemical potentials of each cation, enabling selective measurements of a target ion concentration without requiring a selective organic layer. We use these features to construct a blood serum ionogram for Na+, K+, Ca2+ and Mg2+, in an important step towards the development of a versatile, durable and mobile chemical or blood diagnostic tool.