High-bandwidth low-current measurement system for automated and scalable probing of tunnel junctions in liquids

20 February 2024, Version 1
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


Tunnel junctions have long been used to immobilize and study the electronic transport properties of single molecules. The sensitivity of tunneling currents to entities in the tunneling gap has generated interest in developing electronic biosensors with single molecule resolution. Tunnel junctions can, for example, be used for sensing bound or unbound DNA, RNA, amino acids, and proteins in liquids. However, manufacturing technologies for on-chip integrated arrays of tunnel junction sensors are still in their infancy, and scalable measurement strategies that allow the measurement of large numbers of tunneling junctions are required to facilitate progress. Here, we describe an experimental setup to perform scalable, high bandwidth (> 10 kHz) measurements of low currents (pA–nA) in arrays of on-chip integrated tunnel junctions immersed in various liquid media. Leveraging a commercially available compact 100 kHz bandwidth low-current measurement instrument, we developed a custom two-terminal probe on which the amplifier is directly mounted to decrease parasitic probe capacitances to sub-pF levels. We also integrated a motorized 3-axis stage, which could be powered down using software control, inside the Faraday cage of the setup. This enabled automated data acquisition on arrays of tunnel junctions without worsening the noise floor despite being inside the Faraday cage. A deliberately positioned air gap in the fluidic path ensured liquid perfusion to the chip from outside the Faraday cage without coupling in additional noise. We demonstrated the performance of our setup using rapid current switching observed in electromigrated gold tunnel junctions immersed in deionized water. Our measurement setup and findings will contribute to developing the emerging field of tunnel junction sensors and can be readily extended towards higher bandwidth sensing, as well as to other types of electronic single molecule sensors.


tunnel junction
single molecule sensing
microfluidic devices
low noise

Supplementary materials

Supplementary Information
Supplementary information containing details of key components purchased to build the setup, a description of the microfluidic integration procedure, photographs of the setup components.


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