Simulations of heat transport in single-molecule junctions: Investigations of the thermal diode effect

JJ Wang and J Gong and AJH McGaughey and D Segal, JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL PHYSICS, 157, 174105 (2022).

DOI: 10.1063/5.0125714

With the objective of understanding microscopic principles governing thermal energy flow in nanojunctions, we study phononic heat transport through metal-molecule-metal junctions using classical molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. Considering a single-molecule gold- alkanedithiol-gold junction, we first focus on aspects of method development and compare two techniques for calculating thermal conductance: (i) The Reverse Nonequilibrium MD (RNEMD) method, where heat is inputted and extracted at a constant rate from opposite metals. In this case, the thermal conductance is calculated from the nonequilibrium temperature profile that is created at the junction. (ii) The Approach-to-Equilibrium MD (AEMD) method, with the thermal conductance of the junction obtained from the equilibration dynamics of the metals. In both methods, simulations of alkane chains of a growing size display an approximate length-independence of the thermal conductance, with calculated values matching computational and experimental studies. The RNEMD and AEMD methods offer different insights, and we discuss their benefits and shortcomings. Assessing the potential application of molecular junctions as thermal diodes, alkane junctions are made spatially asymmetric by modifying their contact regions with the bulk, either by using distinct endgroups or by replacing one of the Au contacts with Ag. Anharmonicity is built into the system within the molecular force-field. We find that, while the temperature profile strongly varies (compared with the gold- alkanedithiol-gold junctions) due to these structural modifications, the thermal diode effect is inconsequential in these systems-unless one goes to very large thermal biases. This finding suggests that one should seek molecules with considerable internal anharmonic effects for developing nonlinear thermal devices.

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