Light-emitting silicon nanocrystals (Si nc) have attracted much interest due to their possible application as optoelectronic devices. The interest for Si nanopowders is enhanced by their photoluminescence (PL) emission intensity that can be very strong at room temperature. Due to the intrinsic biocompatibility of Si nanoparticles, this strong optical emission intensity as well as the long decay time (mean life time around hundred microseconds) make these powders potential candidates as tracers for in-vivo applications.
Si nanopowders were obtained in gram quantities by CO2 laser pyrolysis of silane. The particles in the produced powders are in the size range 10-15 nm. These nanoparticles exhibit strong red photoluminescence after heat treatment. The appearance of intense PL emission is clearly related to the surface oxidation of the powders which must be carefully controlled. Several steps have been identified in the oxidation process. This paper presents a detailed study of the evolution of both the photoluminescence intensity and spectral dependence and of the crystalline structure as a function of the heat treatment. We also show that the nanopowders can be dispersed in liquids and incorporated in gel samples while keeping their intense photoluminescence. This result opens a route towards the fabrication of novel devices