High Quantum Yield Amino Acid Carbon Quantum Dots with Unparalleled Refractive Index

Vijay Bhooshan Kumar, Simcha K. Mirsky, Natan T. Shaked, Ehud Gazit

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Carbon quantum dots (CQDs) are one of the most promising types of fluorescent nanomaterials due to their exceptional water solubility, excellent optical properties, biocompatibility, chemical inertness, excellent refractive index, and photostability. Nitrogen-containing CQDs, which include amino acid based CQDs, are especially attractive due to their high quantum yield, thermal stability, and potential biomedical applications. Recent studies have attempted to improve the preparation of amino acid based CQDs. However, the highest quantum yield obtained for these dots was only 44%. Furthermore, the refractive indices of amino acid derived CQDs were not determined. Here, we systematically explored the performance of CQDs prepared from all 20 coded amino acids using modified hydrothermal techniques allowing more passivation layers on the surface of the dots to optimize their performance. Intriguingly, we obtained the highest refractive indices ever reported for any CQDs. The values differed among the amino acids, with the highest refractive indices found for positively charged amino acids including arginine-CQDs (∼2.1), histidine-CQDs (∼2.0), and lysine-CQDs (∼1.8). Furthermore, the arginine-CQDs reported here showed a nearly 2-fold increase in the quantum yield (∼86%) and a longer decay time (∼8.0 ns) compared to previous reports. In addition, we also demonstrated that all amino acid based CQD materials displayed excitation-dependent emission profiles (from UV to visible) and were photostable, water-soluble, noncytotoxic, and excellent for high contrast live cell imaging or bioimaging. These results indicate that amino acid based CQD materials are high-refractive-index materials applicable for optoelectronic devices, bioimaging, biosensing, and studying cellular organelles in vivo. This extraordinary RI may be highly useful for exploring cellular elements with different densities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2421-2433
Number of pages13
JournalACS Nano
Issue number3
StatePublished - 23 Jan 2024
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 American Chemical Society.


  • Amino acids
  • CQD
  • Excitation-dependent emission
  • Live cell imaging
  • N-containing CQD
  • Quantum yield
  • Refractive index


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