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June 16th, 2005
Quantum dots, tiny crystals consisting of a few hundred to a few thousand atoms, sparkle with promise for uses ranging from tagging proteins in living cells to foiling counterfeiters to enabling quantum computers. The optics and electronics of these semiconductor nanocrystals are dramatically different from the same materials in bulk. But it turns out that one of the most important electronic properties of quantum dots has been misunderstood for over a decade.
Theorists at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have shown that a quantum dot's dielectric function (a term indicating how charge responds to an electric field) does not depend on its band gap, as researchers long believed. On the contrary, the dielectric function of a quantum dot, measured on the microscopic scale, is virtually the same as that of the bulk material -- except near the dot's surface.
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