The bottom-up approach has been widely used for large-scale synthesis of carbon nanodots (CNDs). However, the structure and origin of photoluminescence in CNDs synthesized by the bottom-up approach is still a subject of debate. Here, using a series of separation techniques like solvent extraction, column chromatography, gel electrophoresis and dialysis, we present three distinct fluorescent components in CNDs synthesized from pyrene, a well-known precursor molecule. The separated components have qualitative and quantitatively different absorption and emission spectral features including quantum yield (QY). Optical and vibrational spectroscopy techniques combined with electron microscopy indicate that a subtle balance between the extent of graphitization and the presence of molecular fluorophores determines the nature of fluorescence emission. Substantial difference in photons/cycle, single particle fluorescence blinking, on-off photoswitching strongly supports the distinct nature of the components.
Change in the title, introduction, TEM, and STEM figures.