A wet-chemical method to produce zinc oxide nanocrystals of monodisperse size distribution (diameter range of 20–80 nm) is presented. The synthesis starts from zinc acetate dihydrate which is converted to ZnO in the presence of 1-pentanol in m-xylene at 130 °C. We report for the first time catalysis of this reaction by p-toluene sulfonic acid monohydrate (p-TSA), which allows a shorter reaction time and improves both the reproducibility of the particle size distribution and the crystallinity of the particles. The reaction can be scaled up to give multigram quantities of product per batch. Particles were characterized by X-ray diffractometry (XRD), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), high-resolution transmission electron microscopy (HRTEM), and photoluminesence (PL) spectroscopy. Room temperature PL spectra of ZnO prepared without catalyst exhibit a strong and sharp UV emission band at ca. 385 nm and a weak and very broad green–yellow visible emission centered at ca. 550–560 nm. However, for nanoparticles precipitated in the presence of p-TSA, the UV emission is enhanced by a factor of 4, which can be correlated with the improvement of crystal perfection. A particle formation mechanism is discussed.
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