Shape and crystallographic orientation of nanodiamonds for quantum sensing
Nanodiamonds with dimensions down to a few tens of nanometers containing nitrogen-vacancy (NV) color centers have revealed their potential as powerful and versatile quantum sensors with a unique combination of spatial resolution and sensitivity. The NV centers allow transducing physical properties, such as strain, temperature, and electric or magnetic field, to an optical transition that can be detected in the single photon range. For example, this makes it possible to sense a single electron spin or a few nuclear spins by detecting their magnetic resonance. The location and orientation of these defects with respect to the diamond surface play a crucial role in interpreting the data and predicting their sensitivities. Despite its relevance, the geometry of these nanodiamonds has never been thoroughly investigated. Without accurate data, spherical models have been applied to interpret or predict results in the past. With the use of High Resolution Transmission Electron Microscopy (HR-TEM), Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) and Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM), we investigated nanodiamonds with an average hydrodynamic diameter of 25 nm (the most common type for quantum sensing) and found a flake-like geometry, with 23.2 nm and 4.5 nm being the average lateral and vertical dimensions. We have also found evidence for a preferred crystallographic orientation of the main facet in the (110) direction. Furthermore, we discuss the consequences of this difference in geometry on diamond-based applications. Shape not only influences the creation efficiency of nitrogen-vacancy centers and their quantum coherence properties (and thus sensing performance), but also the optical properties of the nanodiamonds, their interaction with living cells, and their surface chemistry.