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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Quantum Yields, Surface Quenching, and Passivation Efficiency for Ultrasmall Core/Shell Upconverting Nanoparticles.

  • Author(s): Würth, Christian
  • Fischer, Stefan
  • Grauel, Bettina
  • Alivisatos, A Paul
  • Resch-Genger, Ute
  • et al.

We synthesized and characterized a set of ultrasmall hexagonal-phase NaGdF4: 20% Yb3+, 2% Er3+ upconversion nanoparticles with core diameters of 3.7 ± 0.5 nm. In order to assess passivation effects and the influence of possible core-shell intermixing and to identify optimum particle structures for combined imaging in the visible and near-infrared (vis-NIR: 410-850 nm) and short-wave infrared (SWIR: 1520 nm), NaYF4 shells of varying thicknesses (monolayer to 10 nm) were introduced and the influence of this parameter on the upconversion and downshifting photoluminescence of these particles was studied at different excitation power densities. This included excitation power-dependent emission spectra, slope factors, quantum yields, and excited state decay kinetics. These measurements revealed enhancement factors of the upconversion quantum yield of >10 000 in the low power region and an excitation power density-independent quantum yield of the downshifted emission at 1520 nm between 0.1 and 14%. The optimized shell thickness for combined vis and SWIR imaging was identified as 5 nm. Moreover, lifetimes and quantum yields can be continuously tuned by shell thickness which can be exploited for lifetime multiplexing and encoding. The fact that we did not observe a saturation of the upconversion quantum yield or the excited state decay kinetics with increasing shell thickness is ascribed to a strong intermixing of the active core with the inert shell during the shelling procedure. This indicates the potential of spectroscopic tools to detect cation intermixing.

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