Exciton fine structure and spin relaxation in semiconductor colloidal quantum dots

Jeongho Kim, Cathy Y Wong, Gregory D Scholes
Accounts of Chemical Research 2009 August 18, 42 (8): 1037-46
Quantum dots (QDs) have discrete quantum states isolated from the environment, making QDs well suited for quantum information processing. In semiconductor QDs, the electron spins can be coherently oriented by photoexcitation using circularly polarized light, creating optical orientation. The optically induced spin orientation could serve as a unit for data storage and processing. Carrier spin orientation is also envisioned to be a key component in a related, though parallel, field of semiconductor spintronics. However, the oriented spin population rapidly loses its coherence by interaction with the environment, thereby erasing the prepared information. Since long-lasting spin orientation is desirable in both areas of investigation, spin relaxation is the central focus of investigation for optimization of device performance. In this Account, we discuss a topic peripherally related to these emerging areas of investigation: exciton fine structure relaxation (EFSR). The radiationless transition occurring in the exciton fine structure not only highlights a novel aspect of QD exciton relaxation but also has implications for carrier spin relaxation in QDs. We focus on examining the EFSR in connection with optical spin orientation and subsequent ultrafast relaxation of electron and hole spin densities in the framework of the exciton fine structure basis. Despite its significance, the study of exciton fine structure in colloidal QDs has been hampered by the experimental challenge arising from inhomogeneous line broadening that obscures the details of closely spaced fine structure states in the frequency domain. In this Account, we show that spin relaxation occurring in the fine structure of CdSe QDs can be probed by a time-domain nonlinear polarization spectroscopy, circumventing the obstacles confronted in the frequency-domain spectroscopy. In particular, by combining polarization sequences of multiple optical pulses with the unique optical selection rules of semiconductors, fast energy relaxation among the QD exciton fine structure states is selectively measured. The measured exciton fine structure relaxation, which is a nanoscale analogue of molecular radiationless transitions, contains direct information on the relaxation of spin densities of electron and hole carriers, that is, spin relaxation in QDs. From the exciton fine structure relaxation rates measured for CdSe nanorods and complex-shaped nanocrystals using nonlinear polarization spectroscopy, we elucidated the implications of QD size and shape on the QD exciton properties as well, for example, size- and shape-scaling laws governing exciton spin flips and how an exciton is delocalized in a QD. We envision that the experimental development and the discoveries of QD exciton properties presented in this Account will inspire further studies toward revealing the characteristics of QD excitons and spin relaxation therein, for example, spin relaxation in QDs made of various materials with different electronic structures, spin relaxation under an external perturbation of QD electronic states using magnetic fields, and spin relaxation of separated electrons and holes in type-II QD heterostructures.

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