Reducing Blinking in Small Core–Multishell Quantum Dots by Carefully Balancing Confinement Potential and Induced Lattice Strain: The “Goldilocks” Effect

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Colloidal semiconductor, Fluorescence lifetime, Interfacial trap states, Lattice mismatch, Single-particle fluorescence


Currently, the most common way to reduce blinking in quantum dots (QDs) is accomplished by using very thick and/or perfectly crystalline CdS shells on CdSe cores. Ideally, a nontoxic material such as ZnS is preferred to be the outer material in order to reduce environmental and cytotoxic effects. Blinking suppression with multishell configurations of CdS and ZnS has been reported only for “giant” QDs of 15 nm or more. One of the main reasons for the limited progress is that the role that interfacial trap states play in blinking in these systems is not very well understood. Here, we show a “Goldilocks” effect to reduce blinking in small (∼7 nm) QDs by carefully controlling the thicknesses of the shells in multishell QDs. Furthermore, by correlating the fluorescence lifetime components with the fraction of time that a QD spends in the on-state, both with and without applying a threshold, we found evidence for two types of blinking that separately affect the average fluorescence lifetime of a single QD. A thorough characterization of the time-resolved fluorescence at the ensemble and single-particle level allowed us to propose a detailed physical model involving both short-lived interfacial trap states and long-lived surface trap states that are coupled. This model highlights a strategy of reducing QD blinking in small QDs by balancing the magnitude of the induced lattice strain, which results in the formation of interfacial trap states between the inner shell and the outer shell, and the confinement potential that determines how accessible the interfacial trap states are. The combination of reducing blinking while maintaining a small overall QD size and using a Cd-free outer shell of ZnS will be useful in a wide array of applications, particularly for advanced bioimaging.


Principal Investigator: Colin Heyes

Acknowledgements: We would like to acknowledge generous financial support from the National Science Foundation (CHE-1255440), NIH NCRR (COBRE grant P30 RR031154-01), and the Arkansas Biosciences Institute.