Photochromic nanoparticles of zinc-silicon oxide were synthesized using plasma enhanced chemical vapor deposition. These particles turned black upon irradiating with ultraviolet light. We investigated this phenomenon using density functional theory calculations. Silicon inclusions create trap levels and oxygen defects that reduce the ionization potential of ZnO. This forms a quantum potential between ZnO and zinc-silicon oxide, and the excited electron is stable. Because oxygen defects also increase the bond overlap population between the zinc atoms in a ZnO crystal, they introduce further defects and help in the formation of quantum potentials. Growth of a perfect crystal of ZnO prevents the formation of oxygen defects, which is not desirable for photochromism.
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