Electron transport determines the electrochemical properties of tetrahedral amorphous carbon (ta-C) thins films

Tommi Palomäki, Niklas Wester, Miguel A. Caro, Sami Sainio, Vera Protopopova, Jari Koskinen, Tomi Laurila

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Amorphous carbon based electrodes are very promising for electrochemical sensing applications. In order to better understand their structure-function relationship, the effect of film thickness on the electrochemical properties of tetrahedral amorphous carbon (ta-C) electrodes was investigated. ta-C thin films of 7, 15, 30, 50 and 100 nm were characterized in detail with Raman spectroscopy, transmission electron microscopy (TEM), conductive atomic force microscopy (c-AFM), scanning tunneling spectroscopy (STS) and X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) to assess (i) the surface properties of the films, (ii) the effect of film thickness on their structure and electrical properties and (iii) the subsequent correlation with their electrochemistry. The electrochemical properties were investigated by cyclic voltammetry (CV) using two different outer-sphere redox probes, Ru(NH3)63+/2+ and FcMeOH, and by electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS). Computational simulations using density functional theory (DFT) were carried out to rationalize the experimental findings. The characterization results showed that the sp2/sp3 ratio increased with decreasing ta-C film thickness. This correlated with a decrease in mobility gap value and an increase in the average current through the films, which was also consistent with the computational results. XAS indicated that the surface of the ta-C films was always identical and composed of a sp2-rich layer. The CV measurements indicated reversible reaction kinetics for both outer-sphere redox probes at 7 and 15 nm ta-C films with a change to quasi-reversible behavior at a thickness of around 30 nm. The charge transfer resistance, obtained from EIS measurements, decreased with decreasing film thickness in accordance with the CV results. Based on the characterization and electrochemical results, we conclude that the reaction kinetics in the case of outer-sphere redox systems is determined mainly by the electron transport through the films and not the electron transfer between the redox probe and the electrode surface, since the surface region is expected to be identical in all the ta-C films. Finally, it was shown that a titanium interlayer between the Si substrate and ta-C significantly affected the electrical and electrochemical properties of the electrodes, further emphasizing the role of electron transport through the film in determining the electrochemical behavior of ta-C.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalElectrochimica Acta
Early online date2016
Publication statusPublished - 2017
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • tetrahedral amorphous carbon
  • electron transfer
  • electron transport
  • film thickness
  • electrochemical properties

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