The correlation between the structural (average size and density) and optoelectronic properties [band gap and photoluminescence (PL)] of Si nanocrystals embedded in SiO2 is among the essential factors in understanding their emission mechanism. This correlation has been difficult to establish in the past due to the lack of reliable methods for measuring the size distribution of nanocrystals from electron microscopy, mainly because of the insufficient contrast between Si and SiO2. With this aim, we have recently developed a successful method for imaging Si nanocrystals in SiO2 matrices. This is done by using high-resolution electron microscopy in conjunction with conventional electron microscopy in dark field conditions. Then, by varying the time of annealing in a large time scale we have been able to track the nucleation, pure growth, and ripening stages of the nanocrystal population. The nucleation and pure growth stages are almost completed after a few minutes of annealing time at 1100 °C in N2 and afterward the ensemble undergoes an asymptotic ripening process. In contrast, the PL intensity steadily increases and reaches saturation after 3–4 h of annealing at 1100 °C. Forming gas postannealing considerably enhances the PL intensity but only for samples annealed previously in less time than that needed for PL saturation. The effects of forming gas are reversible and do not modify the spectral shape of the PL emission. The PL intensity shows at all times an inverse correlation with the amount of Pb paramagnetic centers at the Si–SiO2 nanocrystal–matrix interfaces, which have been measured by electron spin resonance. Consequently, the Pb centers or other centers associated with them are interfacial nonradiative channels for recombination and the emission yield largely depends on the interface passivation. We have correlated as well the average size of the nanocrystals with their optical band gap and PL emission energy. The band gap and emission energy shift to the blue as the nanocrystal size shrinks, in agreement with models based on quantum confinement. As a main result, we have found that the Stokes shift is independent of the average size of nanocrystals and has a constant value of 0.26±0.03 eV, which is almost twice the energy of the Si–O vibration. This finding suggests that among the possible channels for radiative recombination, the dominant one for Si nanocrystals embedded in SiO2 is a fundamental transition spatially located at the Si–SiO2 interface with the assistance of a local Si–O vibration. © 2002 American Institute of Physics.