Monolayer, bilayer, and trilayer graphene quantum dots (GQDs) with different binding abilities to elemental heavy metals (HMs: Cd, Hg, and Pb) were designed, and their electronic and optical properties were investigated theoretically to understand deeply the optical response under heavy metal exposure. To gain insight into the nature of interband absorption, we performed density functional theory (DFT) and time-dependent density functional theory (TD-DFT) calculations for thickness-varying GQDs. We found that the interband absorption in GQDs can be efficiently tuned by controlling the thickness of GQDs to attain the desirable coloration of the interacting complex. We also show that the strength of the interaction between GQDs and Cd, Hg, and Pb is strongly dependent on the number of sp2
-bonded layers. The results suggest that the thickness of GQDs plays an important role in governing the hybridization between locally-excited (LE) and charge-transfer (CT) states of the GQDs. Based on the partial density-of-states (DOS) analysis and in-depth knowledge of excited states, the mechanisms underlying the interband absorption are discussed. This study suggests that GQDs would show an improved sensing performance in the selective colorimetric detection of lead by the thickness control.
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