Carbon nanodots (C-dots) show great potential as an important material for biochemical sensing, energy conversion, photocatalysis, and optoelectronics because of their water solubility, chemical inertness, low toxicity, and photo- and electronic properties. Numerous methods have been proposed for the preparation of C-dots. However, complex procedures and strong acid treatments are often required, and the as-prepared C-dots tend to be of low quality, and in particular, have a low efficiency for photoluminescence. Herein, a facile and general strategy involving the electrochemical carbonization of low-molecular-weight alcohols is proposed. As precursors, the alcohols transited into carbon-containing particles after electrochemical carbonization under basic conditions. The resultant C-dots exhibit excellent excitation- and size-dependent fluorescence without the need for complicated purification and passivation procedures. The sizes of the as-prepared C-dots can be adjusted by varying the applied potential. High-quality C-dots are prepared successfully from different small molecular alcohols, suggesting that this research provides a new, highly universal method for the preparation of fluorescent C-dots. In addition, luminescence microscopy of the C-dots is demonstrated in human cancer cells. The results indicate that the as-prepared C-dots have low toxicity and can be used in imaging applications.
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