Great blue-shift of luminescence of ZnO nanoparticle array constructed from ZnO quantum dots

  • Nengwen Wang1,

    Affiliated with

    • Yuhua Yang1 and

      Affiliated with

      • Guowei Yang1Email author

        Affiliated with

        Nanoscale Research Letters20116:338

        DOI: 10.1186/1556-276X-6-338

        Received: 11 March 2011

        Accepted: 14 April 2011

        Published: 14 April 2011


        ZnO nanoparticle array has been fabricated on the Si substrate by a simple thermal chemical vapor transport and condensation without any metal catalysts. This ZnO nanoparticles array is constructed from ZnO quantum dots (QDs), and half-embedded in the amorphous silicon oxide layer on the surface of the Si substrate. The cathodoluminescence measurements showed that there is a pronounced blue-shift of luminescence comparable to those of the bulk counterpart, which is suggested to originate from ZnO QDs with small size where the quantum confinement effect can work well. The fabrication mechanism of the ZnO nanoparticle array constructed from ZnO QDs was proposed, in which the immiscible-like interaction between ZnO nuclei and Si surface play a key role in the ZnO QDs cluster formation. These investigations showed the fabricated nanostructure has potential applications in ultraviolet emitters.


        Recently, ZnO has attracted very great attention because of its particular properties in broad fields. For example, it has a large direct band gap of 3.37 eV and exciton-binding energy of 60 meV, while the Bohr radius of exciton is as small as approx. 2.34 nm. Thus, ZnO is a promising candidate for the high efficient ultraviolet (UV) laser device [13]. Interestingly, when the size of ZnO nanoparticles is smaller than the Bohr radius (i.e., ZnO quantum dots, QDS), the quantum confinement has a notable influence on the band gap and further causes a series of novel characteristics such as the blue-shift of luminescence [47]. Therefore, there have been a variety of techniques to fabricate ZnO QDs [610]. Usually, the size of ZnO QDs is slightly larger than or just comparable with the exciton Bohr radius [813]. However, few research reports have been involved in the ZnO QDs, showing that their dimension is rigorously smaller than the Bohr radius [413].

        In this study, we have fabricated the unique ZnO nanoparticle arrays that are constructed from ZnO QDs blocks on silicon substrates using a simple thermal chemical vapor transport and condensation without any metal catalysts. Importantly, we measure a great blue-shift of luminescence in the cathodoluminescence (CL) spectrum of the fabricated nanostructure, which implies that this ZnO QDs structure would be applicable to optoelectronic and spintronic applications.


        The ZnO nanoparticle array is fabricated by a simple thermal vapor transport method, and the detailed experimental process has been reported in our previous study [13]. Simply, Si wafers serving as substrates are loaded downstream in a quartz tube. Zinc oxide powders and graphite powders are mixed and heated to 1050°C under the argon gas flow at the rate of 50 sccm with a pressure of 9.0 × 104 Pa. Half-an-hour later, the source powders and the substrate are all taken out from the furnace and allowed to cool down to room temperature naturally. Field emission scanning electron microscopy (FESEM), X-ray diffraction (XRD), and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) coupled with electron-energy loss spectroscopy (EELS) are employed to characterize the morphologies and structures of the prepared samples. The CL measurement is carried out at room temperature using a Gatan Mono-CL system coupled to FESEM with the accelerating voltage of 10 kV.

        Results and discussion

        The fabricated nanoparticle array is shown in Figure 1. Clearly, these nanoparticles are relatively uniform in size and array, isolated, and elliptical. They are half-embedded in the surface of the Si substrate. The corresponding XRD pattern (Figure 1b) can be indexed to be the wurtzite ZnO structure with (100) and (110) peaks. Therefore, these results show that the prepared nanoparticles are ZnO. Note that we can control the size of the fabricated nanoparticles by the growth conditions such as the growth time.
        Figure 1

        The feature and structure of the prepared sample. SEM image (a) and corresponding XRD pattern (b) of the fabricated ZnO nanoparticle array.

        In order to verify the detailed structure of the fabricated nanoparticle array, we prepare the cross-sectional sample for TEM characterization, and the results are shown in Figure 2. In the low magnification of TEM image in Figure 2a, the thickness of the layer is uniform of approx. 25 nm, while two high contrast particles are implanted in the layer. The sizes of the two particles are, respectively, 50 and 57 nm at the interface. The FFT pattern (the inset of Figure 2a) of one particle indicates that it is polycrystalline. The HRTEM image in Figure 2b is taken from the upper ZnO nanoparticle in Figure 2a. Clearly, we can see that several small crystalline particles gather together and form one nanoparticle. The average size of these small ZnO particles is 5.5 nm, which are the so-called ZnO QDs [413]. One ZnO QD has been emphasized and marked with the interplanar spacing of 0.265 nm in the inset of Figure 2b, which is corresponding to the plane (002) of the wurtzite ZnO. Actually, all the interplanar spacings of QDs in Figure 2b and other HRTEM data can be assigned to the spacings of the wurtzite ZnO structure. In addition, we can easily observe that these ZnO QDs are embedded in the amorphous silicon oxide layer on the surface of the Si substrate. Therefore, these results show that the fabricated ZnO nanoparticle array is constructed from ZnO QDs.
        Figure 2

        The TEM and EELS analysis of the structure details of the sample. TEM image with the inserted FFT pattern of the sample in a large area (a), HRTEM image with a highlighted ZnO nanoparticle and the corresponding interplanar spacing (b), EELS of the Zn-L edge (c), O-K edge (d), and Si-L edge (e).

        The EELS spectra of the Zn-L, O-K, and Si-L edges on the particle zone of the sample exhibited in Figure 2c,d,e show that the ZnO nanoparticles contain Zn, O, and Si elements. The sets of Zn-L edge with the peak centered at 1050 eV and the O-K edge with the feature peak at 538 eV demonstrate that the nanoparticles are zinc oxide, in accordance with reports and the analytic results shown above, while the spectra shift due to the native defects, such as Zn and O vacancies on the surface of ZnO QDs [1417]. As we see the Si-L edge in Figure 2e, the distinct features are at 100, 107, 114, 127, and 157 eV, respectively. This Si-L edge is very similar with the spectrum of silicon monoxide that is overlapped by spectra of elemental silicon and of SiO2 whose onsets of the L2,3-edge are approx. 100 and 107 eV, respectively [1823]. Thus, these results reveal that the ZnO QDs disperse in the silicon monoxide.

        In order to explore this fabricated nanostructure's potential applications, we measure the optical properties as shown in Figure 3. Figure 3 shows the CL measurement of the sample. The panchromatic CL image in Figure 3b exhibits that the intense luminescence is mainly from the ZnO nanoparticles. Interestingly, we can observe that the luminescence peak is centered at 363 nm as shown in Figure 3c, which is known as the near-band edge emission of ZnO. However, there is a great blue-shift compared to bulk ZnO in the CL spectrum. Based on previous reports [1, 10, 24, 25], the blue-shift of the CL spectrum of ZnO QDs in our studies is attributed to the quantum-size confinement effect as follows [5, 26]
        Figure 3

        The CL measurements of the ZnO nanoparticle array. SEM image (a), the panchromatic CL image (b), and the corresponding CL spectrum (c).
        where ћ is the Planck's constant, R is the radius of ZnO QDs, and are, respectively, the effective masses of electron and hole (taking and [27]), E (gap, bulk) is the bulk ZnO band gap (3.377 eV), and is the exciton-binding energy (60 meV [2]). Based on Equation 1, we can obtain the relationship between the size and band gap of ZnO QDs as shown in Figure 4. In our case, the radius of ZnO QDs is in the range of 1.6-6.1 nm are also shown in Figure 4. The corresponding band gap and emission wavelength ranges of the prepared ZnO QDs with the radius of 1.6-6.5 nm are also shown in Figure 4. Meanwhile, the peak of 363 nm in the CL spectrum in Figure 3c is corresponding to the size of 5.7 nm for ZnO QDs according to Equation 1. Therefore, the experimental observations are consistent with the theoretical values in our studies. These results thus show that the great blue-shift compared to bulk ZnO is attributed to the quantum size confinement. However, the theoretical emission peak of ZnO QDs with the radius in 1.6-6.1 nm seems about 340 nm that is corresponding to the average radius of the fabricated ZnO QDs in our case based on Equation 1. In fact, the experimental peak actually shifts to the low energy or high wavelength in Figure 4. As we know, the intensity of emission of big QDs is stronger than that of small QDs. Therefore, the emission from big QDs is easily measured in experiment, which cases the measured emission peak shifting to the low energy or the high wavelength as shown in Figure 4.
        Figure 4

        The dimension of QDs dependence of band gap according to formula (1) and the inset of the relevant emission wavelength dependent on the dimension of QDs. The triangle spot signifies the energy and wavelength which are related to the experimental peak of 363 nm.

        According to our previous study [28, 29], the fabrication mechanism of the nanoparticle array is suggested a vapor-solid process. First, ZnO molecules form the thermal chemical vapor transport of source deposit on the substrate and then thermally diffuse on surface. Second, many small ZnO clusters would form by ZnO molecules by ZnO molecules continuously diffusing and colliding as shown in Figure 5b. Then, these small ZnO clusters still thermally diffuse on the surface, because there is an immiscible-like interaction between ZnO cluster and Si surface. In the inset in Figure 5b, we can see that the contact angle between ZnO cluster and Si surface is about 110° [2833]. Thus, this contact angle is so large that ZnO clusters could easily thermal diffuse on Si surface, which seems a driving force to push ZnO cluster moving on surface. Third, large ZnO clusters would form by small clusters continuously diffusing and colliding as shown in Figure 5c. Actually, the nucleation of ZnO could take place when the size of clusters reaches to that of the critical nucleus in this stage. Then, these small ZnO nuclei still thermally move on surface because of the immiscible-like interaction between ZnO cluster and Si surface. Finally, these particle constructed from small nuclei would stop moving on surface and grow up step by step when their size is sufficiently large as shown in Figure 5d. In other words, the large cluster will stand on surface when the immiscible-like interaction cannot provide sufficiently large driving force to push those big particles. In addition, Si surrounding ZnO QDs would be oxidized to form silicon oxides. Thus, we can see that the ZnO nanoparticles are half-embedded in the amorphous silicon monoxide.
        Figure 5

        Schematic illustration of the fabrication mechanism of the ZnO nanoparticle array constructed from ZnO QDs. ZnO molecules randomly diffusing on surface (a), ZnO clusters thermally diffusing on surface and the inset showing the contact angle θ (b), large clusters formation by small clusters continuously diffusing and colliding (c), and big particles formation (d).


        In summary, we have fabricated the ZnO nanoparticle array which is constructed from ZnO QDs on the Si substrate by the thermal chemical vapor transport and condensation without any metal catalysts. This fabricated ZnO nanostructure exhibited a great blue-shift of luminescence in the CL spectrum. These novel properties show that the ZnO nanoparticle array has potential applications in UV emitters.





        electron-energy loss spectroscopy


        field emission scanning electron microscopy


        quantum dots


        transmission electron microscopy




        X-ray diffraction.



        This study was supported by the NSFC (U0734004) and the Ministry of Education.

        Authors’ Affiliations

        State Key Laboratory of Optoelectronic Materials and Technologies, Institute of Optoelectronic and Functional Composite Materials, Nanotechnology Research Center, School of Physics & Engineering, Sun Yat-sen University


        1. Huang MH, Mao S, Feick H, Yan HQ, Wu YY, Kind H, Weber E, Russo R, Yang PD: Room-temperature ultraviolet nanowire nanolasers. Science 2001, 292: 1897. 10.1126/science.1060367View Article
        2. Heo YW, Norton DP, Tien LC, Kwon Y, Kang BS, Ren F, Pearton SJ, LaRoche JR: ZnO nanowire growth and devices. Mater Sci Eng R 2004, 47: 1. 10.1016/j.mser.2004.09.001View Article
        3. Zeng HB, Duan GT, Li Y, Yang SK, Xu XX, Cai WP: Blue luminescence of ZnO nanoparticles based on non-equilibrium processes: defect origins and emission controls. Adv Funct Mater 2010, 20: 561. 10.1002/adfm.200901884View Article
        4. Yu H, Li JB, Loomis RA, Gibbons PC, Wang LW, Buhro WE: Cadmium selenide quantum wires and the transition from 3D to 2D confinement. J Am Chem Soc 2003, 125: 16168. 10.1021/ja037971+View Article
        5. Wu MK, Shih YT, Chen MJ, Yang JR, Shiojiri M: ZnO quantum dots embedded in a SiO2 nanoparticle layer grown by atomic layer deposition. Phys Status Solidi RRL. 2009, 3: 88.
        6. Lin KF, Cheng HM, Hsu HC, Hsieh WF: Band gap engineering and spatial confinement of optical phonon in ZnO quantum dots. Appl Phys Lett 2006, 88: 263117. 10.1063/1.2218775View Article
        7. Kim KK, Koguchi N, Ok YW, Seong TY, Park SJ: Fabrication of ZnO quantum dots embedded in an amorphous oxide layer. Appl Phys Lett 2004, 84: 3810. 10.1063/1.1741030View Article
        8. Ko HJ, Chen YF, Yao T, Miyajima K, Yamamoto A, Goto T: Biexciton emission from high-quality ZnO films grown on epitaxial GaN by plasma-assisted molecular-beam epitaxy. Appl Phys Lett 2000, 77: 537. 10.1063/1.127036View Article
        9. Kim SW, Fujita S, Fujita S: Self-organized ZnO quantum dots on SiO2/Si substrates by metalorganic chemical vapor deposition. Appl Phys Lett 2002, 81: 5036. 10.1063/1.1527690View Article
        10. Wang NW, Yang YH, Yang GW: Fabry-Pérot and whispering gallery modes enhanced luminescence from an individual hexagonal ZnO nanocolumn. Appl Phys Lett 2010, 97: 041917. 10.1063/1.3474611View Article
        11. Yang SJ, Park CR: Facile preparation of monodisperse ZnO quantum dots with high quality photoluminescence characteristics. Nanotechnology 2008, 19: 035609. 10.1088/0957-4484/19/03/035609View Article
        12. Abdullah M, Shibamoto S, Okuyama K: Synthesis of ZnO/SiO2 nanocomposites emitting specific luminescence colors. Opt Mater 2004, 26: 95. 10.1016/j.optmat.2004.01.006View Article
        13. Cheng HM, Lin KF, Hsu HC, Hsieh WF: Size dependence of photoluminescence and resonant Raman scattering from ZnO quantum dots. Appl Phys Lett 2006, 88: 261909. 10.1063/1.2217925View Article
        14. Giannakopoulos K, Boukos N, Travlos A, Monteiro T, Soares MJ, Peres M, Neves A, Carmo MC: Structural and photoluminescence properties of ZnO nanoparticles on silicon oxide. Appl Phys A -Mater 2007, 88: 41. 10.1007/s00339-007-3957-1View Article
        15. Giannakopoulos K, Boukos N, Travlos A: Self-assembled zinc oxide nanodots on silicon oxide. J Phys Conf Ser 2005, 10: 121. 10.1088/1742-6596/10/1/030View Article
        16. Giannakopoulos K, Boukos N, Travlos A: Zinc oxide nanoparticles on silicon. Superlattice Microstruct 2006, 39: 115. 10.1016/j.spmi.2005.08.037View Article
        17. Sato Y, Mizoguchi T, Oba F, Yodogawa M, Yamamoto T, Ikuhara Y: Identification of native defects around grain boundary in Pr-doped ZnO bicrystal using electron energy loss spectroscopy and first-principles calculations. Appl Phys Lett 2004, 84: 5311. 10.1063/1.1766078View Article
        18. Zhang ZL, Su DS: Behaviour of TEM metal grids during in-situ heating experiments. Ultramicroscopy 2009, 109: 766. 10.1016/j.ultramic.2009.01.015View Article
        19. Wenger KS, Cornu D, Chassagneux F, Epicier T, Miele P: Direct synthesis of amorphous silicon dioxide nanowires and helical self-assembled nanostructures derived therefrom. J Mater Chem 2003, 13: 3058. 10.1039/b308164hView Article
        20. Song M, Fukuda Y, Furuya K: Local chemical states and microstructure of photoluminescent porous silicon studied by means of EELS and TEM. Micron 2000, 31: 429. 10.1016/S0968-4328(99)00120-1View Article
        21. Bonnet N, Brun N, Colliex C: Extracting information from sequences of spatially resolved EELS spectra using multivariate statistical analysis. Ultramicroscopy 1999, 77: 97. 10.1016/S0304-3991(99)00042-XView Article
        22. Lai YS, Wang JL, Liou SC, Tu CH: Size and density control of silicon oxide nanowires by rapid thermal annealing and their growth mechanism. Appl Phys A 2009, 94: 357. 10.1007/s00339-008-4806-6View Article
        23. Schulmeister K, Mader W: TEM investigation on the structure of amorphous silicon monoxide. J Non-Cryst Solids 2003, 320: 143. 10.1016/S0022-3093(03)00029-2View Article
        24. Wang NW, Yang YH, Yang GW: Indium oxide-zinc oxide nanosized heterostructure and whispering gallery mode luminescence emission. J Phys Chem C 2009, 113: 15480. 10.1021/jp906924wView Article
        25. Aleksandra B, Djurišić Dr, Leung YH: Optical properties of ZnO nanostructures. Small 2006, 2: 944. 10.1002/smll.200600134View Article
        26. Kayanuma Y: Quantum-size effects of interacting electrons and holes in semiconductor microcrystals with spherical shape. Phys Rev B 1988, 38: 9797. 10.1103/PhysRevB.38.9797View Article
        27. Lin B, Fu Z, Jia Y: Green luminescent center in undoped zinc oxide films deposited on silicon substrates. Appl Phys Lett 2001, 79: 943. 10.1063/1.1394173View Article
        28. Yang YH, Wang B, Yang GW: Mechanisms of self-catalyst growth of agave-like zinc oxide nanostructures on amorphous carbons. Cryst Growth Des 2007, 7: 1242. 10.1021/cg060591qView Article
        29. Wang CX, Wang B, Yang YH, Yang GW: Thermodynamic and kinetic size limit of nanowire growth. J Phys Chem B 2005, 109: 9966. 10.1021/jp0445268View Article
        30. Givargizov EI: Highly Anisotropic Crystals. Boston, MA: D. Reidel; 1986.
        31. Wander A, Harrison NM: An ab-initio study of ZnO . Surf Sci 2000, 468: L851. 10.1016/S0039-6028(00)00794-9View Article
        32. Wander A, Harrison NM: An ab initio study of ZnO . Surf Sci 2000, 457: L342. 10.1016/S0039-6028(00)00418-0View Article
        33. Alivisatos AP: Semiconductor clusters, nanocrystals, and quantum dots. Science 1996, 271: 933. 10.1126/science.271.5251.933View Article


        © Wang et al; licensee Springer. 2011

        This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://​creativecommons.​org/​licenses/​by/​2.​0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.