Femtosecond X-ray absorption study of electron localization in photoexcited anatase TiO2
Transition metal oxides are among the most promising solar materials, whose properties rely on the generation, transport and trapping of charge carriers (electrons and holes). Identifying the latter's dynamics at room temperature requires tools that combine elemental and structural sensitivity, with the atomic scale resolution of time (femtoseconds, fs). Here, we use fs Ti K-edge X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) upon 3.49 eV (355 nm) excitation of aqueous colloidal anatase titanium dioxide nanoparticles to probe the trapping dynamics of photogenerated electrons. We find that their localization at Titanium atoms occurs in < 300 fs, forming Ti3+ centres, in or near the unit cell where the electron is created. We conclude that electron localization is due to its trapping at pentacoordinated sites, mostly present in the surface shell region. The present demonstration of fs hard X-ray absorption capabilities opens the way to a detailed description of the charge carrier dynamics in transition metal oxides.