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MIT researchers improve quantum-dot performance

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Written by: David L. Chandler, MIT News Office

New production method could enable everything from more efficient computer displays to enhanced biomedical testing.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Quantum dots — tiny particles that emit light in a dazzling array of glowing colors — have the potential for many applications, but have faced a series of hurdles to improved performance. But an MIT team says that it has succeeded in overcoming all these obstacles at once, while earlier efforts have only been able to tackle them one or a few at a time.

Moungi G. Bawendi

Quantum dots — in this case, a specific type called colloidal quantum dots — are tiny particles of semiconductor material that are so small that their properties differ from those of the bulk material: They are governed in part by the laws of quantum mechanics that describe how atoms and subatomic particles behave. When illuminated with ultraviolet light, the dots fluoresce brightly in a range of colors, determined by the sizes of the particles.

First discovered in the 1980s, these materials have been the focus of intense research because of their potential to provide significant advantages in a wide variety of optical applications, but their actual usage has been limited by several factors. Now, research published this week in the journal Nature Materials by MIT chemistry postdoc Ou Chen, Moungi Bawendi, the Lester Wolfe Professor of Chemistry, and several others raises the prospect that these limiting factors can all be overcome.

The new process developed by the MIT team produces quantum dots with four important qualities: uniform sizes and shapes; bright emissions, producing close to 100 percent emission efficiency; a very narrow peak of emissions, meaning that the colors emitted by the particles can be precisely controlled; and an elimination of a tendency to blink on and off, which limited the usefulness of earlier quantum-dot applications.

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