Carbon quantum dots (CQDs) are fascinating luminous materials from the carbonaceous family and are increasingly being investigated in many optoelectronic applications due to their unique photoluminescence (PL) characteristics. Herein, we report the synthesis of nitrogen-doped carbon quantum dots (NCQDs) from citric acid and m-phenylenediamine using a one-pot hydrothermal approach. The environment-dependent emission changes of NCQDs were extensively investigated in various solvents, in solid-state, and in physically assembled PMMA-PnBA-PMMA copolymer gels in 2-ethyl hexanol. The NCQDs display bright emission in various solvents as well as in solid-state and a temperature-dependent enhanced emission in gels. In detail, these NCQDs exhibit multicolor PL emission across the visible region and its enhancement upon changing the environment (solutions and polymer matrices). The NCQDs also exhibit excitation-dependent PL and solvatochromism, which are rarely observed in CQDs. Most CQDs are non-emissive in the aggregated or solid-state due to the aggregation-caused quenching (ACQ) effect, limiting their solid-state applications. However, these NCQDs display a strong solid-state emission centered at 568 nm ascribed to the presence of abundant surface functional groups, which helps to prevent the - interaction between the NCQDs and to overcome the ACQ effect in the solid-state. Interestingly, the NCQD containing gels display a significant fluorescence enhancement than the NCQDs in 2-ethyl hexanol solution because of the interaction between the polar PMMA blocks and NCQDs. This research opens up the development of large-scale, low-cost multicolor phosphor for the fabrication of optoelectronic devices, sensing, and bioimaging applications.
Environment-dependent Emission Tuning in the Multicolor Nitrogen-doped Carbon Quantum Dots