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What's a Quantum Dot?

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Western Carolina University graphic design student Ali Burke, explains a common nanomaterial, a quantum dot (QD) in this animation. Ali’s professor, Mary Anna LaFratta integrates science into her projects because “design is, in part, about making information easy to navigate and accessible. Visually explaining concepts related to STEM disciplines is one application of design and a potential career direction for students.”

QDs fall into the nanoscale, roughly 1 to 100 nanometers. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter; a tennis ball is 67,000,000 (or 6.7*107) nanometers in diameter. QDs illustrate a powerful aspect of nanotechnology, the ability to control the behavior of a material by changing its size.

The combination of small size and the ability to emit light is making QDs an important imaging tool in the fight against cancer. Doctor’s inject dye into tumors in order to see the mass. QDs stay brighter longer and move more slowly out of tumors than traditional dyes, allowing doctors more time to remove tumors and nearby affected tissue.

Researchers are developing a method to turn any surface, even windows, into a light collector for a solar panel using QDs. Quantum dots are spread over a surface, such as glass, and absorb a small fraction of light without impacting your view. The QDs can then reemit the light as energy which is collected by a nearby solar cell.

If you aren’t watching this video on a QD-enabled flat screen, you probably will be soon. Because QDs emit very specific, pure colors, they make the color on the screen much more true-to-life while also being energy efficient. As Ali pointed out, “It’s incredible how much these tiny particles can accomplish for us.”

If you want to learn more about nanotechnology, visit and keep on the lookout for two more student animations. The next videos in the series include “How Do You See on the Nanoscale?”  and "How Do Doctors Target Diseased Cells?"

For nano animations from last year, check out “What Can Nanotechnology Do For You?”, “How Can Nanotechnology Save Energy?”, and “How Will Nanotechnology Improve Your Health?”.

Article by: Dr. Quinn Spadola who serves as Program Manager for Education and Outreach as a member of the contract staff in the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office.