For two decades, scientists have known that unexplained blinking occurs in cadmium selenide nanoparticles and they’ve since observed blinking in silicon nanoparticles. Nanoparticles are promising components of optoelectronic devices such as LEDs, lasers, and solar cells.

To add to this mystery, scientists found that nanoparticles obtained with different preparation conditions showed different blinking characteristics.

Now first-principles calculations reveal that defects at the surface of oxidized silicon nanoparticles are the root cause of the blinking (Nanoscale, “Surface dangling bonds are a cause of B-type blinking in Si nanoparticles”).

In the core of the nanoparticles, silicon atoms form four chemical bonds with neighboring silicon atoms. However, on the surface, some silicon atoms may have missing neighbors, leading to “dangling” bonds. These dangling bonds are the most common defects at the interface between the silicon core and silicon dioxide surface and give rise to electronic states that may lead to bright or dark nanoparticles.

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Image Credit:      Peter Allen and Giulia Galli, University of Chicago

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