Selenium’s Sacrifice

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Okay, so I reacted violently. That doesn’t make me a bad atom. Dude, understand I was forced to fuse my orbitals into a nanocrystal. Not just any nanocrystal, a semiconductor particle one million times smaller than a period called a Quantum Dot. Quantum Dot’s are all the rage in televisions these days performing magic light tricks behind the screens to improve color reproduction. Many moles of Selenium conscripts were recently drafted by nanotechnology companies to handle the demand. As a highly-purified selenium atom I was hoping for a distinguished career in pharmaceuticals until this TV rampage came along and scooped me up. That’s just way the bond breaks.

Integration into the Quantum Dot was brutal. First my whole squad of selenium atoms were unceremoniously solubilized in a 405⁰C broth of phosphine. Next, we were thermodynamically forced to bond with cadmium. Humiliating. Joining electrons with a heavy metal made me feel violated. I prayed this was not going to turn into a toxic relationship. I had been content in my selenium ingot before being dissociated in that scalding solution. Oh well, molecular integration is inevitable with entropy and all. At least it was fast, maybe a few milliseconds I reckon. Bam, formed into a cadmium selenide nanocrystal. Joined with two thousand atoms into a faceted quasi sphere. Then came the brutal plunge into a frigid solvent bath dropping our temperature three-hundred-degrees, terminating crystal growth instantly insuring uniform Quantum Dot size. About five nanometers give or take a few angstroms if you are counting. We tried to hang on to our electrons during the plunge, but too much stress caused a fissure in our crystal lattice. Thirty atoms in our Quantum Dot were tragically left dangling. Always negative, the electrons argued the flaw in our Quantum Dot would cause a horrific melt down if we were bombarded by photons. The protons felt the crack would anneal itself given time and the neutrons avoided the discussion. The debate abruptly ended when the factory lights came on and we began resonating violently causing blood red light pulses to stream from our surface. I am not a religious type, but it was exciting to finally be fully functional and ready to join with the other Quantum Dots on our mission to convert blue light into deep red.

Quantum dot. Flashy term. Maybe I should digress. Twenty years of research at the top nanotechnology centers in the world demonstrated the promise of Quantum Dots. Hundreds of millions of dollars was then spent refining and scaling up our synthesis and developing Quantum Dot films that would integrate seamlessly into backlit televisions. Now everyone wants us. Go down to a big box store, check it out, Quantum Dots are in many of the high-end televisions. We are responsible for spectacular color reproduction while dramatically reducing energy consumption. Frogs finally look deep green and lipstick glossy red. We are laid out by the trillions in films behind the screens. My dot captures packets of blue light called photons that are emitted by rows of blue LED’s and converts them to a high purity red wavelength. The smaller quantum dots turn the blue photons into narrow band green light. When our finely tuned red and green photons are mixed with excess blue light from the LED’s by the liquid crystal display a full spectrum of colors can be created. They say quantum dots like us are bright and tight; shift wavelengths efficiently and produce narrow saturated bands of light that are perfect for covering the array of colors visible to the human eye.
Oh, a wise guy huh? You want to understand the physics behind the light conversion? Speak up. There are only two possibilities: yes or no. Yes, it is. Well, when semiconductors such as CdSe or InP absorb light an electron is excited from the valence to the conduction band, leaving behind a hole. The electron and the hole can now bind to each other to form an exciton. When this exciton drops back to its ground state, energy is emitted as light. Since Quantum Dots confine excitons in their discrete valance and conduction bands, specific wavelengths are emitted which are dependent on the size of the crystal. By varying a CdSe Quantum dot from 2nm to 8nm precise wavelengths from blue to deep can be produced.

Now let’s get back to the story. Despite concerns about the flaw, our quantum dot was enjoying a good run, almost two years in a seventy-inch television. In my nucleus though I knew we had to pay a price for performing billions of photonic conversions. The defect was growing daily leaving more atoms dangling. As our crystal deteriorated less energy turned into light and instead radiated as heat. Finally, the photonic impacts caused a catastrophic meltdown. It is not a pretty way to go, long standing bonds breaking, surrounding organics frying. Unfortunately, we were that one defective dot in a million. No one even noticed when we blacked out while the big screen continued to beam out beautiful images.

As our nanocrystal was dying and I knew the end was near, I dreamt of getting recycled and re-forged into a perfect Quantum Dot that would emit pure red light gloriously for eternity. No such luck. Never thought I would end up in the left ear of a gummy bear vitamin. Vitamins always need a few selenium’s in the mix. Critical trace element for human health. Never a dull moment for a selenium atom. They say digestion is not so bad if you don’t get hung up in the kidneys. I will let you know. Let’s catch up on the other side.

About the Author: 
Robert Dubrow is a veteran of the Silicon Valley start-up circuit. Recently he has had several short stories published in literary journals.