Combating Concentration Quenching in Upconversion Nanoparticles

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)358-367
Journal / PublicationAccounts of Chemical Research
Issue number2
Online published21 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 18 Feb 2020


CONSPECTUS: Lanthanide-doped upconversion nanoparticles (UCNPs) are a special class of luminescent nanomaterials that convert multiwavelength near-infrared (NIR) excitation into tunable emissions spanning the deep ultraviolet (UV) to NIR regions. In addition to large anti-Stokes shift, UCNPs also feature a sharp emission bandwidth, long excited-state lifetime, as well as high resistance to optical blinking and photobleaching. Therefore, UCNPs have been identified as promising candidates to solve many challenging problems in fields ranging from biological imaging and therapeutics to photovoltaics and photonics. Nevertheless, the progress of utilizing an upconversion process is being hindered by the limited emission intensity, principally due to low oscillator strength in these nanoparticles.
UCNPs essentially resemble the optical characteristics of their bulk counterparts, which take advantage of electronic transition within the 4f configuration of the lanthanide dopants to realize photon energy conversions. In general, a high dopant concentration promotes upconversion luminescence by providing a high density of optical centers to collect and to sustain the energy of the excitation light. However, an increase in dopant concentration induces self-quenching processes that offset the emission gain and may eventually result in attenuation of the overall emission intensity. This phenomenon known as concentration quenching represents a major obstacle to constructing bright UCNPs. In recent years, advances in nanoparticle research have led to the emergence of several strategies for mitigating energy loss at elevated dopant concentrations. In consequence, doping high levels of lanthanide ions in UCNPs has become a viable solution to boosting the emission intensity of photon upconversion. On account of extensive energy exchange interaction in heavily doped UCNPs, the spectrum tunability of photon upconversion is also greatly enhanced. These advances have largely expanded the scope of upconversion research.
To provide guidelines for enhancing upconversion through heavy doping, we attempt to review recent advances in the understanding and control of concentration quenching in UCNPs. With significant advancements made in the chemical synthesis, we are now able to exquisitely control the doping of lanthanide ions in various nanoparticles of well-defined size, morphology, and core-shell structure. We show that, by confining energy transfer in nanostructured host materials in conjunction with innovative excitation schemes, concentration quenching of upconversion luminescence is largely alleviated. As a result, unusually high dopant concentrations can be used to construct UCNPs displaying high brightness and large anti-Stokes shift. We demonstrate that the development of heavily doped UCNPs enables advanced bioimaging and photonic applications that can hardly be fulfilled by conventional UCNPs comprising low concentrations of lanthanide dopants.