"Electronic coupling and hence hybridization of atoms serves as the bas is for the rich properties for the endless library of naturally occurring molecules. Colloidal quantum dots (CQDs) manifesting quantum strong confinement possess atomic-like characteristics with s and p electronic levels, which popularized the notion of CQDs as artificial atoms. Continuing this analogy, when two atoms are close enough to form a molecule so that their orbitals start overlapping, the orbitals energies start to split into bonding and antibonding states made out of hybridized orbitals. The same concept is also applicable for two fused core–shell nanocrystals in close proximity. Their band edge states, which dictate the emitted photon energy, start to hybridize, changing their electronic and optical properties. Thus, an exciting direction of “artificial molecules” emerges, leading to a multitude of possibilities for creating a library of new hybrid nanostructures with novel optoelectronic properties with relevance toward diverse applications including quantum technologies.
The controlled separation and the barrier height between two adjacent quantum dots are key variables for dictating the magnitude of the coupling energy of the confined wave functions. In the past, coupled double quantum dot architectures prepared by molecular beam epitaxy revealed a coupling energy of few millielectron volts, which limits the applications to mostly cryogenic operation. The realization of artificial quantum molecules with sufficient coupling energy detectable at room temperature calls for the use of colloidal semiconductor nanocrystal building blocks. Moreover, the tunable surface chemistry widely opens the predesigned attachment strategies as well as the solution processing ability of the prepared artificial molecules, making the colloidal nanocrystals as an ideal candidate for this purpose. Despite several approaches that demonstrated enabling of the coupled structures, a general and reproducible method applicable to a broad range of colloidal quantum materials is needed for systematic tailoring of the coupling strength based on a dictated barrier.
This Account addresses the development of nanocrystal chemistry to create coupled colloidal quantum dot molecules and to study the controlled electronic coupling and their emergent properties. The simplest nanocrystal molecule, a homodimer formed from two core/shell nanocrystal monomers, in analogy to homonuclear diatomic molecules, serves as a model system. The shell material of the two CQDs is structurally fused, resulting in a continuous crystal. This lowers the potential energy barrier, enabling the hybridization of the electronic wave functions. The direct manifestation of the hybridization reflects on the band edge transition shifting toward lower energy and is clearly resolved at room temperature. The hybridization energy within the single homodimer molecule is strongly correlated with the extent of structural continuity, the delocalization of the exciton wave function, and the barrier thickness as calculated numerically. The hybridization impacts the emitted photon statistics manifesting faster radiative decay rate, photon bunching effect, and modified Auger recombination pathway compared to the monomer artificial atoms. Future perspectives for the nanocrystals chemistry paradigm are also highlighted."