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Hydrothermal Route For Cutting Graphene Sheets Into Blue-luminescent Graphene Quantum Dots.

Dengyu Pan, Jingchun Zhang, Zhen Li, M. Wu
Published 2010 · Materials Science, Medicine

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2010 WILEY-VCH Verlag Gm Graphene-based materials are promising building blocks for future nanodevices owing to their superior electronic, thermal, and mechanical properties as well as their chemical stability. However, currently available graphene-based materials produced by typical physical and chemical routes, including micromechanical cleavage, reduction of exfoliated graphene oxide (GO), and solvothermal synthesis, are generally micrometer-sized graphene sheets (GSs), which limits their direct application in nanodevices. In this context, it has become urgent to develop effective routes for cutting large GSs into nanometer-sized pieces with a well-confined shape, such as graphene nanoribbons (GNRs) and graphene quantum dots (GQDs). Theoretical and experimental studies have shown that narrow GNRs (width less than ca. 10 nm) exhibit substantial quantum confinement and edge effects that render GNRs semiconducting. By comparison, GQDs possess strong quantum confinement and edge effects when their sizes are down to 100 nm. If their sizes are reduced to ca. 10 nm, comparable with the widths of semiconducting GNRs, the two effects will become more pronounced and, hence, induce new physical properties. Up to now, nearly all experimental work on GNRs and GQDs has focused on their electron transportation properties. Little work has been done on the optical properties that are directly associated with the quantum confinement and/or edge effects. Most GNRand GQD-based electronic devices have been fabricated by lithography techniques, which can realize widths and diameters down to ca. 20 nm. This physical approach, however, is limited by the need for expensive equipment and especially by difficulties in obtaining smooth edges. Alternative chemical routes can overcome these drawbacks. Moreover, surface functionalization can be realized easily. Li et al. first reported a chemical route to functionalized and ultrasmooth GNRs with widths ranging from 50 nm to sub-10 nm. Very recently, Kosynkin et al. reported a simple solution-based oxidative process for producing GNRs by lengthwise cutting and unraveling of multiwalled carbon nanotube (CNT) side walls. Yet, no chemical routes have been reported so far for preparing functionalized GQDs with sub-10 nm sizes. Here, we report on a novel and simple hydrothermal approach for the cutting of GSs into surface-functionalized GQDs (ca. 9.6-nm average diameter). The functionalized GQDs were found to exhibit bright blue photoluminescence (PL), which has never been observed in GSs and GNRs owing to their large lateral sizes. The blue luminescence and new UV–vis absorption bands are directly induced by the large edge effect shown in the ultrafine GQDs. The starting material was micrometer-sized rippled GSs obtained by thermal reduction of GO sheets. Figure 1a shows a typical transmission electron microscopy (TEM) image of the pristine GSs. Their (002) interlayer spacing is 3.64 A (Fig. 1c), larger than that of bulk graphite (3.34 A). Before the hydrothermal treatment, the GSs were oxidized in concentrated H2SO4 and HNO3. After the oxidization treatment the GSs became slightly smaller (50 nm–2mm) and the (002) spacing slightly increased to 3.85 A (Fig. 1c). During the oxidation, oxygen-containing functional groups, including C1⁄4O/COOH, OH, and C O C, were introduced at the edge and on the basal plane, as shown in the Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectrum (Fig. 1d). The presence of these groups makes the GSs soluble in water. A series of more marked changes took place after the hydrothermal treatment of the oxidized GSs at 200 8C. First, the (002) spacing was reduced to 3.43 A (Fig. 1c), very close to that of bulk graphite, indicating that deoxidization occurs during the hydrothermal process. The deoxidization is further confirmed by the changes in the FTIR and C 1s X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) spectra. After the hydrothermal treatment, the strongest vibrational absorption band of C1⁄4O/COOH at 1720 cm 1 became very weak and the vibration band of epoxy groups at 1052 cm 1 disappeared (Fig. 1d). In the XPS C 1s spectra of the oxidized and hydrothermally reduced GSs (Fig. 2a), the signal at 289 eV assigned to carboxyl groups became weak after the hydrothermal treatment, whereas the sp carbon peak at 284.4 eV was almost unchanged. Figure 2b shows the Raman spectrum of the reduced GSs. A G band at 1590 cm 1 and a D band at 1325 cm 1 were observed with a large intensity ratio ID/IG of 1.26. Second, the size of the GSs decreased dramatically and ultrafine GQDswere isolated by a dialysis process. Figure 3 shows typical TEM and atomic force microscopy (AFM) images of the GQDs. Their diameters are mainly distributed in the range of 5–13 nm (9.6 nm average diameter). Their topographic heights are mostly between 1 and 2 nm, similar to those observed in functionalized GNRs with 1–3 layers. More than 85% of the GQDs consist of 1–3 layers.
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