Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Doo Young Kim


Carbon quantum dots (CQDs) are the latest generation of carbon nanomaterials in applications where fullerenes, carbon nanotubes, and graphene are abundantly used. With several attractive properties such as tunable optical property, edge-functionalization, and defect-rich chemical structure, CQDs have the potential to revolutionize optoelectronics, electro- and photocatalysis, and biomedical applications. Chemical modifications through the addition of heteroatoms, chemical reduction, and surface passivation are found to alter the band gap, spectral position, and emission pathways of CQDs. Despite extensive studies, fundamental understanding of structure-property relationship remains unclear due to the inhomogeneity in chemical structure and a complex emission mechanism for CQDs.

This dissertation outlines a series of works that investigate the structure-property relationship of CQDs and its impact in a variety of applications. First, this relationship was explored by modifying specific chemical functionalities of CQDs and relating them to differences observed in optical, catalytic, and pharmacological performance. While a number of scientific articles reported that top-down or bottom-up synthesized CQDs yielded similar properties, the results herein present dissimilar chemical structures as well as photoluminescent and metal sensing properties. Second, the role of nitrogen heteroatoms in top-down synthesized CQD was studied. The effect of nitrogen atoms on spectral position and fluorescence quantum yield was considerably studied in past reports; however, thorough investigation to differentiate various nitrogen related chemical states was rarely reported. By finely tuning both the quantity of nitrogen doping and the distribution of nitrogen-related chemical states, we found that primary amine and pyridine induce a red-shift in emission while pyrrolic and graphitic nitrogen produced a blue-shift in emission. The investigation of nitrogen chemical states was extended to bottom-up synthesized CQDs with similar results. Finally, top-down, bottom-up, nitrogen-doped and chemically reduced CQDs were separately tested for their ability to act as photodynamic anti-cancer agents. This series of experiments uncovered the distribution of reactive oxygen species produced during light exposure which elucidated the photodynamic mechanisms of cancer cytotoxicity. The results presented in this dissertation provide key insight into engineering finely-tailored CQDs as the ideal nanomaterial for a broad range of applications.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)