Absorption and emission of light in red emissive carbon nanodots†
The structure–function relationship, especially the origin of absorption and emission of light in carbon nanodots (CNDs), has baffled scientists. The multilevel complexity arises due to the large number of by-products synthesized during the bottom-up approach. By performing systematic purification and characterization, we reveal the presence of a molecular fluorophore, quinoxalino[2,3-b]phenazine-2,3-diamine (QXPDA), in a large amount (∼80% of the total mass) in red emissive CNDs synthesized from o-phenylenediamine (OPDA), which is one of the well-known precursor molecules used for CND synthesis. The recorded NMR and mass spectra tentatively confirm the structure of QXPDA. The close resemblance of the experimental vibronic progression and the mirror symmetry of the absorption and emission spectra with the theoretically simulated spectra confirm an extended conjugated structure of QXPDA. Interestingly, QXPDA dictates the complete emission characteristics of the CNDs; in particular, it showed a striking similarity of its excitation independent emission spectra with that of the original synthesized red emissive CND solution. On the other hand, the CND like structure with a typical size of ∼4 nm was observed under a transmission electron microscope for a blue emissive species, which showed both excitation dependent and independent emission spectra. Interestingly, Raman spectroscopic data showed the similarity between QXPDA and the dot structure thus suggesting the formation of the QXPDA aggregated core structure in CNDs. We further demonstrated the parallelism in trends of absorption and emission of light from a few other red emissive CNDs, which were synthesized using different experimental conditions.