Radio-luminescence spectral features and fast emission in hafnium dioxide nanocrystals†
In this work, we investigate the optical properties of hafnium dioxide nanocrystals, upon X-ray irradiation, looking for spectral evolution following thermal treatments in air up to 1000 °C that modify the crystal size as well as their point defect concentrations. Radio-luminescence measurements from 10 K up to room temperature reveal a rich and evolving picture of the optical features. A complete spectral analysis of the broad luminescence spectra reveals the presence of several emission components in the visible and UV regions. The lower energy components peaking at 2.1, 2.5, and 2.9 eV are characterized by a thermal quenching energy of 0.08 eV, while the corresponding value for the UV bands at 4.1 and 4.7 eV is close to 0.23 eV. We tentatively assign the components ranging from 2 to 3 eV to the presence of optically active defects of an intrinsic nature, together with the occurrence of titanium impurities; conversely, the bands at higher energies are likely to be of an excitonic nature. The comparison with previous photo-luminescence studies allows evidencing characteristic differences between the features of luminescence emissions caused by intra-centre excitation and those occurring under ionizing irradiation. Finally, scintillation measurements in the visible range reveal the existence of a fast decay in the nanosecond time scale for the smallest hafnia nanocrystals. This study offers a clear description of HfO2 luminescence characteristics upon excitation by X-rays and can lead to a better comprehension of the structure–property relationship at the nanoscale in metal oxides.