Direct Observation of Early-Stage Quantum Dot Growth Mechanisms with High-Temperature Ab Initio Molecular Dynamics


Colloidal quantum dots (QDs) exhibit highly desirable size- and shape-dependent properties for applications from electronic devices to imaging. Indium phosphide QDs have emerged as a primary candidate to more toxic CdSe QDs, but production of InP QDs with the desired properties lags behind other QD materials due to a poor understanding of how to tune the growth process. Using high-temperature ab initio molecular dynamics (AIMD) simulations, we report the first direct observation of early-stage intermediates and subsequent formation of an InP cluster from indium and phosphorus precursors. In our simulations, indium agglomeration precedes formation of In–P bonds. We observe a predominantly intercomplex pathway in which In–P bonds form between one set of precursor copies, and the carboxylate ligand of a second indium precursor in the agglomerated indium abstracts a ligand from the phosphorus precursor. This process produces an indium-rich cluster with structural properties comparable to those in bulk zinc-blende InP crystals. Minimum energy pathway characterization of the AIMD-sampled reaction events confirms these observations and identifies that In–carboxylate dissociation energetics solely determine the barrier along the In–P bond formation pathway, which is lower for intercomplex (13 kcal/mol) than intracomplex (21 kcal/mol) mechanisms. The phosphorus precursor chemistry, on the other hand, controls the thermodynamics of the reaction. Our observations of the different roles of precursors in controlling QD formation strongly suggest that the challenges thus far encountered in InP QD synthesis optimization may be attributed to an overlooked need for a cooperative tuning strategy that simultaneously addresses the chemistry of both indium and phosphorus precursors.

J. Phys. Chem. C, 120, 2472-2483 (2016)
Heather J. Kulik
Heather J. Kulik
Professor of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry