Building devices from colloidal quantum dots

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Science  26 Aug 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6302, aac5523
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac5523

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From quantum dot to quantum dot

A wide range of materials can now be synthesized into semiconducting quantum dots. Because these materials grow from solutions, there is scope to combine quantum dots into devices by using simple, low-cost manufacturing processes. Kagan et al. review recent progress in tailoring and combining quantum dots to build electronic and optoelectronic devices. Because it is possible to tune the size, shape, and connectivity of each of the quantum dots, there is potential for fabricating electronic materials with properties that are not available in traditional bulk semiconductors.

Science, this issue p. 885

Structured Abstract


The Information Age was founded on the semiconductor revolution, marked by the growth of high-purity semiconductor single crystals. The resultant design and fabrication of electronic devices exploits our ability to control the concentration, motion, and dynamics of charge carriers in the bulk semiconductor solid state.

Our desire to introduce electronics everywhere is fueled by opportunities to create intelligent and enabling devices for the information, communication, consumer product, health, and energy sectors. This demand for ubiquitous electronics is spurring the design of materials that exhibit engineered physical properties and that can enable new fabrication methods for low-cost, large-area, and flexible devices.

Semiconductors, which are at the heart of electronics and optoelectronics, come with high demands on chemical purity and structural perfection. Alternatives to silicon technology are expected to combine the electronic and optical properties of inorganic semiconductors (high charge carrier mobility, precise n- and p-type doping, and the ability to engineer the band gap energy) with the benefits of additive device manufacturing: low cost, large area, and the use of solution-based fabrication techniques. Along these lines, colloidal semiconductor quantum dots (QDs), which are nanoscale crystals of analogous bulk semiconductor crystals, offer a powerful platform for device engineers. Colloidal QDs may be tailored in size, shape, and composition and their surfaces functionalized with molecular ligands of diverse chemistry. At the nanoscale (typically 2 to 20 nm), quantum and dielectric confinement effects give rise to the prized size-, shape-, and composition-tunable electronic and optical properties of QDs. Surface ligands enable the stabilization of QDs in the form of colloids, allowing their bottom-up assembly into QD solids. The physical properties of QD solids can be designed by selecting the characteristics of the individual QD building blocks and by controlling the electronic communication between the QDs in the solid state. These QD solids can be engineered with application-specific electronic and optoelectronic properties for the large-area, solution-based assembly of devices.


The large surface-to-volume ratio of QDs places a substantial importance on the composition and structure of the surface in defining the physical properties that govern the concentration, motion, and dynamics of excitations and charge carriers in QD solids. Recent studies have shown pathways to passivate uncoordinated atoms at the QD surface that act to trap and scatter charge carriers. Surface atoms, ligands, and ions can serve as dopants to control the electron affinity of QD solids. Surface ligands and surrounding matrices control the barriers to electronic, excitonic, and thermal transport between QDs and between QDs and matrices. New ligand chemistries and matrix materials have been reported that provide freedom to control the dynamics of excitons and charge carriers and to design device interfaces. These advances in engineering the chemical and physical properties of the QD surface have been translated into recent achievements of high-mobility transistors and circuits, high-quantum-yield photodetectors and light-emitting devices, and high-efficiency photovoltaic devices.


The dominant role and dynamic nature of the QD surface, and the strong motive to build novel QD devices, will drive the exploration of new surface chemistries and matrix materials, processes for their assembly and integration with other materials in devices, and measurements and simulations with which to map the relationship between surface chemistry and materials and device properties. Challenges remain to achieve full control over the carrier type, concentration, and mobility in the QD channel and the barriers and traps at device interfaces that limit the gain and speed of QD electronics. Surface chemistries that allow for both long carrier lifetime and high carrier mobility and the freedom to engineer the bandgap and band alignment of QDs and other device layers are needed to exploit physics particular to QDs and to advance device architectures that contribute to improving the performance of QD optoelectronics. The importance of thermal transport in QD solids and their devices is an essential emerging topic that promises to become of greater importance as we develop QD devices.

Colloidal quantum dot device architectures.

Colloidal quantum dots (center) may be engineered in size, shape, and surface chemistry and deposited from solution to be integrated as thin-film solids in different electronic and optoelectronic devices that modulate and transmit charge and transduce light and electricity. [Figure courtesy of O. Voznyy and F. S. Stinner.]


The continued growth of mobile and interactive computing requires devices manufactured with low-cost processes, compatible with large-area and flexible form factors, and with additional functionality. We review recent advances in the design of electronic and optoelectronic devices that use colloidal semiconductor quantum dots (QDs). The properties of materials assembled of QDs may be tailored not only by the atomic composition but also by the size, shape, and surface functionalization of the individual QDs and by the communication among these QDs. The chemical and physical properties of QD surfaces and the interfaces in QD devices are of particular importance, and these enable the solution-based fabrication of low-cost, large-area, flexible, and functional devices. We discuss challenges that must be addressed in the move to solution-processed functional optoelectronic nanomaterials.

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