The chemistry of Cu3N and Cu3PdN nanocrystals

23 March 2022, Version 2
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


Cu3N and Cu3PdN nanocrystals are attractive materials with numerous applications ranging from optoelectronics to catalysis. However, their chemical formation mechanism and surface chemistry are unknown or contested. In this work, we first optimize the synthesis and purification to yield phase pure, colloidal stable Cu3N and Cu3PdN nanocubes. Second, we elucidate the precursor conversion mechanism that leads to the formation of Cu3N from copper(II) nitrate and oleylamine. We find that oleylamine is both the reductant and nitrogen source. Oleylamine is oxidized to a primary aldimine and the latter reacts further with oleylamine to a secondary aldimine, eliminating ammonia. Ammonia reacts with Cu(I) to form Cu3N. Third, we investigated the surface chemistry of the nanocrystals using solution NMR spectroscopy and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS). We find a mixed ligand shell of aliphatic amines and carboxylates. The carboxylate is produced in situ during the synthesis. While the carboxylates appear tightly bound, the amines are easily desorbed from the surface. Finally, we analyze the optoelectronic properties by UV-Vis and XPS. Doping with palladium decreases the bandgap but the material remains a semiconductor. These results bring insight into the chemistry of metal nitrides and will help the development of other metal nitride nanocrystals.


copper nitride
structural analysis
surface chemistry

Supplementary materials

Supporting information for The chemistry of Cu3N and Cu3PdN nanocrystals
1H NMR and and X-ray diffractograms, ammonia detection results, TEM images, PDF refinements, FTIR analysis, XPS and PDOS results.


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