Little is known about the molecular pathway to monomers of semiconductor nanocrystals. Here we report a general reaction pathway, which is based on hydrogen-mediated ligand loss for the precursor conversion to 'monomers' at low temperature before nucleation. We apply (31)P nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to monitor the key phosphorous-containing products that evolve from MXn+E=PPh2H+HY mixtures, where MXn, E=PPh2H, and HY are metal precursors, chalcogenide precursors, and additives, respectively. Surprisingly, the phosphorous-containing products detected can be categorized into two groups, Ph2P-Y and Ph2P(E)-Y. On the basis of our experimental and theoretical results, we propose two competing pathways to the formation of M2En monomers, each of which is accompanied by one of the two products. Our study unravels the pathway of precursor evolution into M2En monomers, the stoichiometry of which directly correlates with the atomic composition of the final compound nanocrystals.
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