Fluorescent noble metal nanoclusters

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Zheng, Jie
Dickson, Robert M.
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Water-soluble fluorescent metallic clusters at sizes comparable to the Fermi wavelength of an electron (~0.5 nm for gold and silver) were created and their photophysical properties were investigated at the bulk and single molecule levels. We employed biocompatible dendrimer and peptide to prepare a series of strong fluorescent gold and silver clusters with chemical or photo reduction methods. Facilitated by the well-defined dendrimer size, electrospray ionization mass spectrometry indicates that the fluorescent silver nanocluster size ranges from 2 to 8 Ag atoms. The correlation of emission energy with the number of atoms, N, in each gold nanocluster is quantitatively fit for the smallest nanoclusters with no adjustable parameters by the simple scaling relation of EFermi/N1/3, in which EFermi is the Fermi energy of bulk gold. The transition energy scaling inversely with cluster radius indicates that electronic structure can be well described with the spherical jellium model and further demonstrates that these nanomaterials are multi-electron artificial atoms. Fluorescence from these small metal clusters can be considered protoplasmonic, molecular transitions of the free conduction electrons before the onset of collective dipole oscillations occurring when a continuous density of states is reached. In addition, very strong single molecular Stokes and Antistokes Raman enhancement by fluorescent silver clusters was observed. Pushing to larger sizes, we also created ~ 2nm diameter glutathione encapsulated luminescent gold nanoparticles. Distinct from similarly sized but nonluminescent gold nanoparticles, these 2 nm gold nanoparticles show bright, long lifetime emission but no plasmon absorption. The emission might arise from charge transfer between gold atoms and the thiol ligand. Providing the missing link between atomic and nanoparticle behavior in noble metals, these highly fluorescent, water-soluble gold and silver nanoclusters offer complementary transition energy size scalings at smaller dimensions than do semiconductor quantum dots. The unique discrete excitation and emission and strong Stokes and antistokes Raman enhancement coupled with facile creation in aqueous solution open new opportunities for noble metal nanoclusters as biological labels, energy transfer pairs, and other light emitters in nanoscale electronics.
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