Back in 2013, Rice scientists developed a simple method to reduce coal into graphene quantum dots (GQDs). Now, these Rice researchers have found a way to engineer these GQDs for specific semiconducting properties in two separate processes.

The researchers' work demonstrates precise control over the graphene oxide dots' band gap, the very property that makes them semiconductors. By sorting the QDs through ultrafiltration, it was found possible to produce quantum dots with specific semiconducting properties. The second process involved direct control of the reaction temperature in the oxidation process that reduced coal to quantum dots. The researchers found hotter temperatures produced smaller dots that had different semiconducting properties. The dots in these experiments came from treatment of anthracite, a kind of coal. The processes produce batches in specific sizes between 4.5 and 70 nanometers in diameter.

Graphene quantum dots may contribute greatly to various applications that may benefit from brighter and longer-lasting colors. The researchers suggested their quantum dots may also enhance sensing, electronic and photovoltaic applications. These inexpensive processes may also lower the costs of the QDs that are usually quite expensive.