University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

March 9, 2021

Tiny fluorescent semiconductor dots, called quantum dots, are useful in a variety of health and electronic technologies but are made of toxic, expensive metals. Nontoxic and economic carbon-based dots are easy to produce, but they emit less light. A new study that uses ultrafast nanometric imaging found good and bad emitters among populations of carbon dots. This observation suggests that by selecting only super-emitters, carbon nanodots can be purified to replace toxic metal quantum dots in many applications, the researchers said.

The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, brought together researchers from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in a collaborative project through the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at Illinois.

“Coming into this study, we did not know if all carbon dots are only mediocre emitters or if some were perfect and others were bad,” said Illinois chemistry professor Martin Gruebele, who led the study. “We knew that if we could show that there are good ones and bad ones, maybe we could eventually find a way to pick the perfect ones out of the mix.”

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