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Electronic transport through individual ZnO nanowires has been investigated. The current increases linearly with the bias and the conductance jumps upon ultraviolet illumination. The increase rate upon the illumination is much faster than the decrease rate as the light is off. The decrease rate under vacuum is slower than that in air. These phenomena are related to the surface oxygen species and further confirmed by in situ current–voltage measurements as a function of oxygen pressure at room temperature. Also, the conductance increases greatly as the temperature is raised. These results demonstrate that the surface oxygen species dominate the transport process through individual ZnO nanowires, which indicates their potential application to room temperature gas sensors. © 2004 American Institute of Physics.