Journal of the American Chemical Society

Redox Potentials of Colloidal n-Type ZnO Nanocrystals: Effects of Confinement, Electron Density, and Fermi-Level Pinning by Aldehyde Hydrogenation.

PMID 26263400


Electronically doped colloidal semiconductor nanocrystals offer valuable opportunities to probe the new physical and chemical properties imparted by their excess charge carriers. Photodoping is a powerful approach to introducing and controlling free carrier densities within free-standing colloidal semiconductor nanocrystals. Photoreduced (n-type) colloidal ZnO nanocrystals possessing delocalized conduction-band (CB) electrons can be formed by photochemical oxidation of EtOH. Previous studies of this chemistry have demonstrated photochemical electron accumulation, in some cases reaching as many as >100 electrons per ZnO nanocrystal, but in every case examined to date this chemistry maximizes at a well-defined average electron density of ⟨Nmax⟩ ≈ (1.4 ± 0.4) × 10(20) cm(-3). The origins of this maximum have never been identified. Here, we use a solvated redox indicator for in situ determination of reduced ZnO nanocrystal redox potentials. The Fermi levels of various photodoped ZnO nanocrystals possessing on average just one excess CB electron show quantum-confinement effects, as expected, but are >600 meV lower than those of the same ZnO nanocrystals reduced chemically using Cp*2Co, reflecting important differences between their charge-compensating cations. Upon photochemical electron accumulation, the Fermi levels become independent of nanocrystal volume at ⟨N⟩ above ∼2 × 10(19) cm(-3), and maximize at ⟨Nmax⟩ ≈ (1.6 ± 0.3) × 10(20) cm(-3). This maximum is proposed to arise from Fermi-level pinning by the two-electron/two-proton hydrogenation of acetaldehyde, which reverses the EtOH photooxidation reaction.