'Strained' quantum dots show new optical properties

December 07, 2008

Quantum dots, tiny luminescent particles made of semiconductors, hold promise for detecting and treating cancer earlier. However, if doctors were to use them in humans, quantum dots could have limitations related to their size and possible toxicity.

Scientists at Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology have found a way around those limitations by exploiting a property of semiconductors called "lattice strain." By layering materials with different chemical compositions on top of each other, the researchers can create particles with new optical properties.

A description of the "strain-tuned" particles is available online this week and is scheduled for publication in the December issue of the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

"The first generation of quantum dots had optical properties that could be tuned by their size," says senior author Shuming Nie, PhD, a professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. "We have discovered another way to tune quantum dots' properties: by modulating lattice strain."

In addition to their expected utility in biomedical imaging, the new type of quantum dots could find use in optoelectronics, advanced color displays, and more efficient solar panels, Nie adds.

A mismatch between the lattices of the semiconductors making up the inner core and outside shell of the particle creates strain: the core is squeezed and the shell is stretched. This physical strain changes the energies, and wavelengths, of the light produced by the quantum dot.

Previous quantum dots contained cadmium, a toxic heavy metal. Strain-tuned quantum dots can be made mostly of the less toxic elements zinc and selenium, although some cadmium remains at the core of the particle. The particles can be between four and six nanometers wide.

Adding layers of zinc and selenium on top of a cadmium and tellurium core increases the wavelength of light produced as fluorescence by the quantum dots, Nie's team shows. As the core becomes smaller, the shift in the fluorescence wavelength produced by the zinc-containing layers becomes larger.

Strain-tuned quantum dots can be made that emit light at wavelengths in the near-infrared range while remaining small in size. Near-infrared wavelengths around 750 nanometers represent a "clear window" where the human body is relatively transparent, says Andrew Smith, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in Nie's group and the first author of the paper.

While the newer strain-tuned quantum dots have not been tested in living animals or people, they could probably pass through the kidneys, meaning less toxicity, if they are less than five nanometers in diameter, Smith remarks.

"Using near-infrared wavelengths, there's less difficulty in seeing through the body's tissues," he continues. "Older quantum dots that emit in the near-infrared range are rod-shaped and large enough to get trapped in the kidneys, while smaller particles can both clear the kidneys and have less of a tendency to bind proteins in the blood."

"Core-shell nanocrystals are all expected to have some lattice mismatch between the core and the shell, so the strain effect is a general phenomenon," Nie says. "But this effect was not well understood in the past, and was often not taken into consideration. Our work shows that lattice strain is another key factor that must be considered, in addition to particle size and composition."
-end-
The National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy and the Georgia Cancer Coalition funded the research.

Reference: Smith, A.M., Mohs, A.M and Nie, S. Tuning the optical and electronic properties of colloidal nanocrystals by lattice strain. Nature Nanotechnology, advance online publication, December 2008.

The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, and health care. Its components include schools of medicine, nursing, and public health; the Yerkes National Primate Research Center; the Emory Winship Cancer Institute; and Emory Healthcare, the largest, most comprehensive health system in Georgia. The Health Sciences Center has a $2.3 billion budget, 17,000 employees, 2,300 full-time and 1,900 affiliated faculty, 4,300 students and trainees, and a $4.9 billion economic impact on metro Atlanta.

Emory Health Sciences

Related Quantum Dots Articles from Brightsurf:

Direct visualization of quantum dots reveals shape of quantum wave function
Trapping and controlling electrons in bilayer graphene quantum dots yields a promising platform for quantum information technologies.

Scientists age quantum dots in a test tube
Researchers from MIPT and the RAS Institute of Problems of Chemical Physics have proposed a simple and convenient way to obtain arbitrarily sized quantum dots required for physical experiments via chemical aging.

'Growing' active sites on quantum dots for robust H2 photogeneration
Chinese researchers had achieved site- and spatial- selective integration of earth-abundant metal ions in semiconductor quantum dots (QDs) for efficient and robust photocatalytic H2 evolution from water.

New insights into the energy levels in quantum dots
Researchers from Basel, Bochum and Copenhagen have gained new insights into the energy states of quantum dots.

What a pair! Coupled quantum dots may offer a new way to store quantum information
Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and their colleagues have for the first time created and imaged a novel pair of quantum dots -- tiny islands of confined electric charge that act like interacting artificial atoms.

Spinning quantum dots
A new paper in EPJ B presents a theoretical analysis of electron spins in moving semiconductor quantum dots, showing how these can be controlled by electric fields in a way that suggests they may be usable as information storage and processing components of quantum computers.

Controlling the charge state of organic molecule quantum dots in a 2D nanoarray
Australian researchers have fabricated a self-assembled, carbon-based nanofilm where the charge state (ie, electronically neutral or positive) can be controlled at the level of individual molecules.

Modified quantum dots capture more energy from light and lose less to heat
Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists have synthesized magnetically-doped quantum dots that capture the kinetic energy of electrons created by ultraviolet light before it's wasted as heat.

Using quantum dots and a smartphone to find killer bacteria
A combination of off-the-shelf quantum dot nanotechnology and a smartphone camera soon could allow doctors to identify antibiotic-resistant bacteria in just 40 minutes, potentially saving patient lives.

Synthesizing single-crystalline hexagonal graphene quantum dots
A KAIST team has designed a novel strategy for synthesizing single-crystalline graphene quantum dots, which emit stable blue light.

Read More: Quantum Dots News and Quantum Dots Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.