Institute of Crystallography - CNR

Band Gap Narrowing in Silane-Grafted ZnO Nanocrystals. A Comprehensive Study by Wide-Angle X-ray Total Scattering Methods

Zinc oxide (ZnO) is a largely investigated semiconducting nanomaterial for photocatalytic applications and is an excellent active layer candidate in photovoltaics. Among native defects, having a primary role in ZnO optoelectronic properties, the influence of nearly ubiquitous planar faults of wurtzite sequences in ultrasmall (<=5 nm) nanocrystals (NCs) remains poorly understood. Here, we present a thorough study of ZnO NCs prepared under morphological control of covalently grafted vinyltrimethoxysilane (VTMS) and exhibiting either narrowing or widening of the band gap upon NCs downsizing, depending on the NC growth rate. By using synchrotron X-ray total scattering data, atomistic models and the Debye Scattering Equation (DSE) method, complemented by spectroscopic (FTIR and UV-vis) investigations, we provide a comprehensive quantitative picture in which effects from planar defects are disentangled from those due to NC size, morphology, and lattice strain (here controlled by preferential binding of VTMS on the ZnO basal faces). When faults occur in high concentration (linear density up to 1.6 × 106 cm-1), NCs exhibit optical band gap narrowing (3.27 eV vs 3.37 eV in bulk ZnO), whereas gap widening (3.52 eV) is observed at a lower density (0.8 × 106 cm-1), at which quantum-size confinement effects prevail. Supported by photoluminescence and photodegradation experiments, surface defect passivation by VTMS, affecting visible emissions and photocatalytic properties of ZnO, is also discussed in relation to silane coating and fault-driven bandgap. This work sheds light on the complex interplay among planar defects, quantum size effect, and surface modifications in ultrasmall ZnO NCs and on the importance of advanced X-ray total scattering methods toward atomically precise control of defects in nanostructures.

Journal of physical chemistry. C
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Bertolotti F.; Tabacaru A.; Musat V.; Tigau N.; Cervellino A.; Masciocchi N.; Guagliardi A.
Authors IC CNR