Quantum Dots See In The Dark

Jun 16, 2004
Quantum Dot IR Replicator Unit

Researchers at the University of Southern California and the University of Texas at Austin have built and tested a device based on nanostructures called quantum dots that can sensitively detect infrared radiation in a crucial wavelength range. Quantum dot IR receptor unit.


The atmosphere is opaque to most infrared, but it is transparent for a narrow "window" between 8 and 12 microns. Night vision goggles, military target tracking devices and environmental monitors utilize this range of wavelengths.

Anupam Madhukar, holder of the Kenneth T. Norris Chair in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering with appointments in the departments of materials science, biomedical engineering and physics, says "a class of existing infrared detectors are based on what is called 'quantum well' technology. But we have created a detector based on different physics--quantum dot physics--that works at least as well and has the potential to perform better."

Madhukar worked with Joe C. Campbell, who holds the Cockrell Family Regents Chair in the UT Austin College of Engineering's department of electrical and computer engineering. The two engineers described the device in the April 24 issue of Applied Physics Letters.

The device uses self-assembled "quantum dots," island-like pyramidal structures made of semiconductors. Each dot has a core of indium arsenide surrounded by gallium arsenide and an indium-gallium arsenide alloy. A single dot is approximately 20 nanometers (2 millionths of a centimeter) in base size and about 4 nanometers in height.

The three-dimensional confinement of electrons within these structures creates unique, characteristic behavior. By using varying proportions of the materials and changing synthesis procedures, engineers can tailor quantum dots for use in lasers, detectors, optical amplifiers, transistors, tunneling diodes, and other devices.

"Quantum dots are emerging as the most viable semiconductor nanotechnology for future higher performance communication systems, biomedical imaging, environmental sensors, and infrared detection," said Madhukar.

Unlike their alternatives, quantum dot infrared detectors strongly absorb radiation shining perpendicular to the plane of an array of quantum dots.

By contrast, the alternate quantum well detectors don't pick up radiation that shines straight down on them. To achieve this "necessitates additional processing steps," Madhukar said. This increases the cost of the well detectors.

When the engineers benchmarked the new device using standard tests, its detectivity was nearly 100 times higher than the previously reported peak for quantum dot systems. The new range is competitive with the corresponding values for the well-established quantum well infrared photo detectors.

"It is about an order of magnitude lower than a third technology, mercury-cadmium-telluride material based infrared detectors. These now provide the best available performance, but suffer from materials uniformity and long-term stability issues," said Campbell.

The researchers expect that placing the dot arrays in a configuration called a "resonant cavity," which traps the radiation and bounces it back and forth between mirroring walls, will make them more sensitive.

Source of this public release is University of Southern California.

Explore further: New 'designer carbon' boosts battery performance

Related Stories

Rediscovering spontaneous light emission

Feb 03, 2015

Berkeley Lab researchers have developed a nano-sized optical antenna that can greatly enhance the spontaneous emission of light from atoms, molecules and semiconductor quantum dots. This advance opens the ...

Recommended for you

New 'designer carbon' boosts battery performance

11 hours ago

Stanford University scientists have created a new carbon material that significantly boosts the performance of energy-storage technologies. Their results are featured on the cover of the journal ACS Central Sc ...

Self-replicating nanostructures made from DNA

May 28, 2015

(Phys.org)—Is it possible to engineer self-replicating nanomaterials? It could be if we borrow nature's building blocks. DNA is a self-replicating molecule where its component parts, nucleotides, have specific ...

Could computers reach light speed?

May 28, 2015

Light waves trapped on a metal's surface travel nearly as fast as light through the air, and new research at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory shows these waves, called surface plasmons, travel far enough ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.