Functionalization of Cadmium Selenide Quantum Dots with Poly(ethylene glycol): Ligand Exchange, Surface Coverage, and Dispersion Stability

Whitney Nowak Wenger, Frank S. Bates, Eray S. Aydil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Semiconductor quantum dots synthesized using rapid mixing of precursors by injection into a hot solution of solvents and surfactants have surface ligands that sterically stabilize the dispersions in nonpolar solvents. Often, these ligands are exchanged to disperse the quantum dots in polar solvents, but quantitative studies of quantum dot surfaces before and after ligand exchange are scarce. We studied exchanging trioctylphosphine (TOP) and trioctylphosphine oxide (TOPO) ligands on as-synthesized CdSe quantum dots dispersed in hexane with a 2000 g/mol thiolated poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) polymer. Using infrared spectroscopy we quantify the absolute surface concentration of TOP/TOPO and PEG ligands per unit area before and after ligand exchange. While 50-85% of the TOP/TOPO ligands are removed upon ligand exchange, only a few are replaced with PEG. Surprisingly, the remaining TOP/TOPO ligands outnumber the PEG ligands, but these few PEG ligands are sufficient to disperse the quantum dots in polar solvents such as chloroform, tetrahydrofuran, and water. Moreover, as-synthesized quantum dots once easily dispersed in hexane are no longer dispersible in nonpolar solvents after ligand exchange. A subtle coverage-dependent balance between attractive PEG-solvent interactions and repulsive TOP/TOPO-solvent interactions determines the dispersion stability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8239-8245
Number of pages7
Issue number33
StatePublished - Aug 22 2017


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Materials Science(all)
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Surfaces and Interfaces
  • Spectroscopy
  • Electrochemistry

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