From Anhydrous Zinc Oxide Nanoparticle Powders to Aqueous Colloids: Impact of Water Condensation and Organic Salt Adsorption on Free Exciton Emission
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Variations in the composition and structure of ZnO nanoparticle interfaces have a key influence on the materials? optoelectronic properties and are responsible for high number of discrepant results reported for ZnO-based nanomaterials. Here, we conduct a systematic study of the room-temperature photoluminescence of anhydrous ZnO nanocrystals, as synthesized in the gas phase and processed in water-free atmosphere, and of their colloidal derivatives in aqueous dispersions with varying amounts of organic salt admixtures. A free exciton band at h? = 3.3 eV is essentially absent in the anhydrous ZnO nanocrystal powders measured in vacuum or in oxygen atmosphere. Surface hydration of the nanoparticles during colloid formation leads to the emergence of the free exciton band at h? = 3.3 eV and induces a small but significant release in lattice strain as detected by X-ray diffraction. Most importantly, admixture of acetate or citrate ions to the aqueous colloidal dispersions not only allows for the control of the ?-potential but also affects the intensity of the free exciton emission in a correlated manner. The buildup of negative charge at the solid?liquid interface, as produced by citrate adsorption, increases the free exciton emission. This effect is attributed to the suppression of electron trapping in the near-surface region, which counteracts nonradiative exciton recombination. Using well-defined ZnO nanoparticles as model systems for interface chemistry studies, our findings highlight water-induced key effects that depend on the composition of the aqueous solution shell around the semiconducting metal oxide nanoparticles.