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Quantum dots 'breathe' in response to laser light pulses

Posted: 23 Mar 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory  quantum dot  X-ray  optical laser 

The U.S. Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory researchers have observed nanoscale semiconductor crystals expand and shrink in response to powerful pulses of laser light. According to the researchers, the ultrafast "breathing" gives additional insight about how such tiny structures change shape as they start to melt, which can help guide researchers in using them of various applications.

In the experiment using SLAC's Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) X-ray laser, a DOE Office of Science User Facility, researchers first exposed the nanocrystals to a burst of laser light, followed closely by an ultrabright X-ray pulse that recorded the resulting structural changes in atomic-scale detail at the onset of melting.

"This is the first time we could measure the details of how these ultrasmall materials react when strained to their limits," said Aaron Lindenberg, an assistant professor at SLAC and Stanford who led the experiment. The results were published March 12 in Nature Communications.

Quantum dots 'breathe' in response to laser light pulses

In this illustration, intense X-rays produced at SLAC's Linac Coherent Light Source strike nanocrystals of a semiconductor material. Scientists used the X-rays to study an ultrafast "breathing" response in the crystals induced quadrillionths of a second earlier by laser light.

Getting to know quantum dots

The crystals studied at SLAC are known as "quantum dots" because they display unique traits at the nanoscale that defy the classical physics governing their properties at larger scales. The crystals can be tuned by changing their size and shape to emit specific colours of light, for example.

So scientists have worked to incorporate them in solar panels to make them more efficient and in computer displays to improve resolution while consuming less battery power. These materials have also been studied for potential use in batteries and fuel cells and for targeted drug delivery.

Scientists have also discovered that these and other nanomaterials, which may contain just tens or hundreds of atoms, can be far more damage-resistant than larger bits of the same materials because they exhibit a more perfect crystal structure at the tiniest scales. This property could prove useful in battery components, for example, as smaller particles may be able to withstand more charging cycles than larger ones before degrading.

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