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Luminescence Photophysics In Semiconductor Nanocrystals

M. Nirmal, L. Brus
Published 1999 · Chemistry

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Introduction Sp3-hybridized semiconductors (including InP, GaAs, CdSe, and Si) are remarkable from the perspective of physical chemistry. A single electron created by HOMOLUMO promotion moves rapidly in response to an applied electric field, because there is little lattice distortion (i.e., small Franck-Condon factors) accompanying its creation. According to Marcus-Hush electron transfer theory, electron motion is resonant in the limit of vanishing reorganization energy. Franck-Condon factors are also small around an electron-hole pair, which is an electronically excited state. As a consequence, radiationless internal conversion (unimolecular decay converting electronic energy into heat) is extremely slow. Excited states decay radiatively in a defect-free, direct gap semiconductor such as CdSe. These simple spectroscopic facts have important practical consequences. Semiconductor lightemitting diodes have narrow emission bands and can show near 30% efficiency in converting electrical power into light. Semiconductor lasers and diodes also show excellent long-term stability against photochemical and current-induced degradation, when compared with many organic materials. All these properties reflect the strong chemical bonding, and the extremely delocalized nature of the electronic wave functions. Semiconductor nanocrystals lie between the traditional regimes of chemistry and solid-state physics.1 Nanocrystal research was initially motivated by an effort to understand the evolution of bulk structural and electronic properties from the molecular scale.2 Presently, technological interest in nanocrystals stems from the prospect of creating novel materials with distinct physical properties. Nanocrystals act like molecules as they interact with light via their electronic transition dipoles. Yet, their delocalized solid-state parentage causes them to display unusual photophysics relative to molecules. In many molecules vibronic interaction in the excited state is strong as the wave function is localized on just one or a few bonds. The molecular excited state has a different structure which promotes fast nonradiative deactivation into the ground state. Emission quantum yields can be low, and often sensitive to quenching by the local environment. The situation is different in nanocrystals. In a 23 A diameter nanocrystal, for example, the wave function is delocalized over ∼100 unit cells with little probability density at the surface. This suggests that, in the absence of defects, internal or surface, a nanocrystal should exhibit near unity fluorescence quantum yield, and partial protection from quenching. The emission spectrum should be sharp as the Franck-Condon factors are small. At room temperature nanocrystals can be better photoemitters than bulk semiconductors because in nanocrystals the electron and hole remain superimposed due to quantum confinement. Nanocrystals have the potential to serve as ideal chromophores if their surface chemistry can be understood and controlled. In this Account we describe nanocrystal photophysics and make comparisons between inorganic solid-state materials and organic dye molecules.
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