Antonio Cappai, Claudio Melis, Luigi Stagi, Pier C. Ricci, Francesca Mocci, and Carlo M. Carbonaro
The molecular emission model is the most accredited one to explain the emission properties of carbon dots (CDs) in a low-temperature bottom-up synthesis approach. In the case of citric acid and urea, the formation of a citrazinic acid (CZA) single monomer and oligomers is expected to affect the optical properties of the CDs. It is therefore mandatory to elucidate the possible role of weak bonding interactions in determining the UV absorption spectrum of some molecular aggregates of CZA. Although this carboxylic acid is largely exploited in the synthesis of luminescent CDs, a full understanding of its role in determining the final emission spectra of the produced CDs is still very far to be achieved. To this aim, by relying on purely first-principles density functional theory calculations combined with experimental optical characterization, we built and checked the stability of some molecular aggregates, which could possibly arise from the formation of oligomers of CZA, mainly dimers, trimers, and some selected tetramers. The computed vibrational fingerprint of the formation of aggregates is confirmed by surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy. The comparison of experimental data with calculated UV absorption spectra showed a clear impact of the final morphology of the aggregates on the position of the main peaks in the UV spectra, with particular regard to the 340 nm peak associated with n-π* transition.