The Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2023 was awarded for the discovery and development of quantum dots (QD). The 2023 Nobel Laureates in Chemistry have successfully produced particles so small that their properties are determined by quantum phenomena, resulting in fascinating and unusual properties.

 These nanoparticles are so tiny that their size determines their unique properties. These smallest components of nanotechnology are now being used in various applications, such as in the manufacturing of cell phones, televisions and light-emitting diodes or LED lamps.

Students in the Nanotechnology Engineering (NE) Program have the amazing opportunity to learn and work with quantum dots in the third-year lab course called Synthesis of Nanomaterials and their Characterization in an experiment better known as the “Quantum Dot Lab”. Students also have the chance to learn more about them in a fourth-year course on organic electronics.

Professor Howard Siu developed the lab in collaboration with Professor Hany Aziz, whose research involves in part advances in organic (OLED) and quantum dot (QLED) light-emitting diode technology. Siu envisioned bringing that work with its advanced materials to an undergraduate setting.

“That's one of the key things I considered when I was developing the lab was that I wanted to reinforce the material and principles covered in the NE program,” says Siu.

In the NE Program students characterize the quantum dots using techniques they learn in the second year. In their third year, NE students have a strong basis of theoretical knowledge, practical instrumentation, and wet chemistry skills. This skill set is essential for working with advanced materials such as quantum dots. The lab is designed to bridge the gap between making these emerging nanomaterials and understanding how they work in real-life applications.

Quantum dots are crystalline nanoparticles that are semiconducting in nature and are capable of converting energy into light. In the lab, each group of students creates a full spectrum of luminescence by synthesizing quantum dots in a range of sizes. The advantages of using quantum dots over conventional LED materials are higher efficiency in terms of converting energy into light, as well as more monochromatic or “purer” type of light source that produces sharper and more vibrant colours.

The colour of the light that the quantum dots produce varies according to the size of the particles with smaller particles producing blue light, the larger particles producing red and the intermediate sizes producing the rest of the colours in the spectrum. The largest potential application of QDs is used in light devices such as monitors, displays, LED lights, cell phones, TVs, computer screens and digital advertising.

After their lab, it is nearly guaranteed that students post their colourful and luminescent QD creations on their social media accounts.

“Moving forward the students can now see a QLED display and say I've made one of those,” says Siu. “I think that translating from the basic nano, science and engineering principles to a final product that they can see and interact with is critical.”

NE students have a cutting-edge opportunity to work with new emerging materials currently being used in industry that will shape the technologies of the future.