Electron transfer processes mediated by nanostructured materials assembled at electrode surfaces underpin fundamental processes in novel electrochemical sensors, light energy conversion systems and molecular electronics. Functionalisation of electrode surfaces with hierarchical architectures incorporating self-assembling molecular systems and materials, such as metal nanostructures, quantum dots, carbon nanotubes, graphene or biomolecules have been intensively studied over the last 20 years. Important steps have been made towards the rationalisation of the charge transfer dynamics from redox species in solution across molecular self-assembling systems to electrode surfaces. For instance, a unified picture has emerged describing the factors which determine the rate constant for electron transfer processes across rigid self-assembling molecular barriers. An increasing bulk of evidence has recently shown that the incorporation of nanomaterials into self-assembling monolayers leads to an entirely different electrochemical behaviour. This perspective rationalises some of the key observations associated with nanoparticle mediated charge transfer, such as the apparent distance independent charge transfer resistance observed for redox species in solution. This behaviour only manifests itself clearly in the case where the probability of direct charge transfer from the redox probe to the electrode is strongly attenuated by self-assembling molecular barriers. Here we will highlight specific issues concerning self-assembled monolayers as blocking barriers prior to discussing the effect of nanoparticles on the electrochemical response of the system. Selected examples will provide conclusive evidence that the extent of charge transfer mediation is determined by the overlap between the density of states of the nanostructures and the energy levels of redox species in solution. Only in the case where a strong overlap exists between the energy levels of the two components, the nanostructures behave as “electron launchers”, allowing efficient charge transfer across insulating molecular layers.
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