Diversity of sub-bandgap states in lead-sulfide nanocrystals: real-space spectroscopy and mapping at the atomic-scale†
Colloidal semiconductor nanocrystals have emerged as a promising class of technological materials with optoelectronic properties controllable through quantum-confinement effects. Despite recent successes in this field, an important factor that remains difficult to control is the impact of the nanocrystal surface structure on the photophysics and electron transport in nanocrystal-based materials. In particular, the presence of surface defects and irregularities can result in the formation of localized sub-bandgap states that can dramatically affect the dynamics of charge carriers and electronic excitations. Here we use Scanning Tunneling Spectroscopy (STS) to investigate, in real space, sub-bandgap states in individual ligand-free PbS nanocrystals. In the majority of studied PbS nanocrystals, spatial mapping of electronic density of states with STS shows atomic-scale variations attributable to the presence of surface reconstructions. STS spectra show that the presence of surface reconstructions results in formation of surface-bound sub-bandgap electronic states. The nature of the surface reconstruction varies depending on the surface stoichiometry, with lead-rich surfaces producing unoccupied sub-bandgap states, and sulfur-rich areas producing occupied sub-bandgap states. Highly off-stoichiometric areas produce both occupied and unoccupied states showing dramatically reduced bandgaps. Different reconstruction patterns associated with specific crystallographic directions are also found for different nanocrystals. This study provides insight into the mechanisms of sub-bandgap state formation that, in a modified form, are likely to be applicable to ligand-passivated nanocrystal surfaces, where steric hindrance between ligands can result in under-coordination of surface atoms.