Defect Engineering of Graphene to Modulate pH Response of Graphene Devices
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Graphene-based pH sensors are a robust, durable, sensitive, and scalable approach for the sensitive detection of pH in various environments. However, the mechanisms through which graphene responds to pH variations are not well-understood yet. This study provides a new look into the surface science of graphene-based pH sensors to address the existing gaps and inconsistencies among the literature concerning sensing response, the role of defects, and surface/solution interactions. Herein, we demonstrate the dependence of the sensing response on the defect density level of graphene, measured by Raman spectroscopy. At the crossover point (ID/IG = 0.35), two countervailing mechanisms balance each other out, separating two regions where either a surface defect induced (negative slope) or a double layer induced (positive slope) response dominates. For ratios above 0.35, the pH-dependent induction of charges at surface functional groups (both pH-sensitive and nonsensitive groups) dominates the device response. Below a ratio of 0.35, the response is dominated by the modulation of charge carriers in the graphene due to the electric double layer formed from the interaction between the graphene surface and the electrolyte solution. Selective functionalization of the surface was utilized to uncover the dominant acid-base interactions of carboxyl and amine groups at low pH while hydroxyl groups control the high pH range sensitivity. The overall pH-sensing characteristics of the graphene will be determined by the balance of these two mechanisms.
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