Touring a Quantum Dot Factory

We get a rare, behind-the-scenes look at how quantum dots are made at Nanosys.

Geoffrey Morrison
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Nanosys makes quantum dots, the microscopic particles that help make your TV bright and colorful. 

For more info about our special tour, check out Where Quantum Dots Are Made.

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Our tour starts in one of the research and testing areas. This big ball is called an integrating sphere. The inside is hollow and coated with a diffuse white coating. It lets engineers measure the light output of an object in ways that are difficult or impossible with other methods.

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Can't have a lab without microscopes. I wonder if they have any larger ones...

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Check out those quantum dots! This is a Philips Tecnai transmission electron microscope

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Lots of whirrs and hums. This must be a testing lab.

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The big devices that look like refrigerators are actually test chambers that can vary the temperature. One of the ways to more rapidly test something's longevity or performance over time is to crank up the heat. This is why I avoid the sun.

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Test chambers can maintain a high or low temperature depending on what needs to be tested. They can also rapidly cycle through both.

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Here are some prototypes in enclosures finishing up a round of testing. 

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Sometimes room temperature will do, and there were multiple shelves with prototypes glowing brightly.

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This is the main room of the factory, where more testing and the actual creation of the quantum dots takes place.

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Nanosys uses these pressurized chambers, quite simply called glove boxes, to keep dust and other contaminants out of the chemicals used for the creation process. Even exposure to normal air can degrade some of the chemicals used. The circle in between the two chambers is the door of an airlock.

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This is a small-scale setup to test different formulations and methods. The main production tanks you'll see in a moment.

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Check out that red.

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Nanosys' quantum dots are nontoxic. I asked what would happen if I got some on my hands, and they said they'd just glow for a while. The dots are hard to get off but won't do any harm. 

OK, fair, glowing hands aren't harmful. Creepy, but not harmful.

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Check out that glow! The best way I can describe quantum dots is, think of them as microscopic Wiffle balls with crystals inside that glow when exposed to energy. Here, Nanosys president Jason Hartlove shines a UV flashlight on two vials that have quantum dots at different stages of the manufacturing process.

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The process for making quantum dots is multistage. First, they grow the crystals using a variety of chemicals that of course I can't share. At a specific point, the growth is stopped using other chemicals. Size is crucial with quantum dots, as that's what determines what color they glow.

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After the crystal growth is stopped, another chemical is mixed in that creates a shell around the crystals. The Wiffle ball, if you will. This protects the crystals, but still lets in the photons or electrons that give the crystal the energy needed to emit its light.

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This should give you a better idea how bright these vials are. All cameras have a limited dynamic range, so I've exposed to the vials, not the ambient light. 

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Believe it or not, this is it. Billions of quantum dots are made in this small room. In the far corner is a large stainless steel vat called a reactor that does all the mixing of the various chemicals. All the pipes bring in, or remove, the chemicals at specific times.   

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Outside that room are the pumps and tanks to make it all function. 

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Some storage tanks for the various chemicals.

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What does all that get you? Small barrels of many, many, many quantum dots. Depending on the manufacturer, one of these barrels could last several months. 

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Down the hall is one of the research labs. Here, they're working on electroluminescent quantum dots.

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High five! Or, I guess, side five?

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An electroluminescent quantum dot testing chip. The purple rectangles in the middle are the quantum dots; the metallic triangles are the contacts to supply the electricity. 

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Interestingly, electroluminescent quantum dots are very similar to, and in some ways the same as, photoluminescent quantum dots, as you can see here as they luminesce with a UV light.

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Vials of a few additional colors undergoing testing.

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For testing, it's good to have some small-scale manufacturing capabilities. This is one end of a machine that runs the entire length of the room that prints quantum dot films like you'd find in many LCDs. Nanosys uses this rig to help train manufacturers to make their own QD films using Nanosys' QDs.

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A closeup of the subject of a custom testing rig. A photospectrometer above measures the precise light spectrum created by different QD designs.

A hand-built box showing a rainbow of pixels lit by electroluminescent quantum dots.
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A  "proof of concept" demo box for electroluminescent quantum dot.

Some electronics and a blurred out screen of the first electroluminescent quantum dot prototype.
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This is the top secret electroluminescent quantum dot prototype we saw at CES 2023. So secret, we had to blur it. 

For more about quantum dots, Nanosys and our special behind-the-scenes tour, check out Where Quantum Dots Are Made.

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