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Tiny but Mighty Quantum Dots

by Kathy Chambers on Wed, October 12, 2016

quantum dots
Image credit: National Energy Research
Scientific Computing Center, Nicholas Brawand

Quantum dots are tiny particles of semiconductor materials that are only a few nanometers in size.  These tiny but mighty particles have immense potential because of their flexibility and highly tunable properties.  Since they are so small, their optical and electronic properties behave quite differently from those of larger particles.  They obey quantum-mechanics laws.  They can be synthesized on-demand with nearly atomic precision.  They emit extremely pure light that differs in color, depending on their size.  They can be suspended in solutions, embedded into materials, and used to seek out cancer cells and deliver treatments.  They can accept photons and convert them into electricity at substantial rates and they are exceptionally energy efficient.  Quantum dots research holds great promise to improve our lives. 

Nanoscientist (and former Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) Paul Alivisatos, along with his collaborators, pioneered the synthesis of semiconductor quantum dots and multi-shaped nanostructures.  This discovery paved the way for a new generation of applications in biomedical diagnostics, display technologies, revolutionary photovoltaic cells, and light emitting diode (LED) materials.  A collection of Alivisatos’ patents are available in the DOepatents database. 

DOE scientists have been working on quantum dot applications in photovoltaic research, as a video in the DOE ScienceCinema database shows.  Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers, in collaboration with scientists at the University of Milano-Bicocca, are seeking to transform roofs and windows into power generators that efficiently harvest sunlight for photovoltaics and provide a desired degree of shading.  It is envisioned that occupants will be able to generate environmentally friendly and unobtrusive solar energy with their own windows. 

High cost and limited availability have been obstacles to the widespread use of zinc sulfide quantum dots in potential applications.  This could change:  Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) researchers have demonstrated a large-scale technique using bacteria fed with inexpensive sugar to produce quantum dots that is estimated to reduce production cost by approximately 90 percent compared with other methods.  The associated ORNL research paper, “Manufacturing demonstration of microbially mediated zinc sulfide nanoparticles in pilot-plant scale reactors,” was recently published in “Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology.”  This journal article will become freely available to the public in DOE PAGESBeta on April 27, 2017 after an administrative interval. 

Quantum dot research papers are available in OSTI’s Catalogue of Collections.  OSTI’s Dr. William Watson discusses the Department’s quantum dot research projects in his latest white paper, “In the OSTI Collections: Quantum Dots.”  The October 2016 DOE Science Showcase also spotlights DOE’s quantum dot research endeavors.

Other Related Topics: quantum, quantum dots
Page last updated on 2017-03-14 12:20

About the Author

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Kathy Chambers
Technical Writer, Information International Associates, Inc.