Ultrafast excited state dynamics in a molecular motor: Coupling of motor length to medium viscosity

Jamie Conyard, Peter Stacko, Jiawan Chen, Sophie McDonagh, Christopher R. Hall, Sergey P. Laptenok, Wesley R. Browne, Ben L. Feringa, Stephen R. Meech

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Photochemically driven molecular motors convert the energy of incident radiation to intramolecular rotational motion. The motor molecules considered here execute four step unidirectional rotational motion. This comprises a pair of successive light induced isomerizations to a metastable state followed by thermal helix inversions. The internal rotation of a large molecular unit required in these steps is expected to be sensitive to both the viscosity of the medium and the volume of the rotating unit. In this work we describe a study of motor motion in both ground and excited states as a function of the size of the rotating units. The excited state decay is ultrafast, highly non-single exponential and best described by a sum of three exponential relaxation components. The average excited state decay time observed for a series of motors with substituents of increasing volume was determined. While substitution does affect the lifetime, the size of the substituent has only a minor effect. The solvent polarity dependence is also slight, but there is a significant solvent viscosity effect. Increasing the viscosity has no effect on the fastest of the three decay components, but does lengthen the two slower decay times, consistent with them being associated with motion along an intramolecular coordinate displacing a large solvent volume. However, these slower relaxation times are again not a function of the size of the substituent. We conclude that excited state decay arises from motion along a coordinate which does not necessarily require complete rotation of the substituents through the solvent, but is instead more localised in the core structure of the motor. The decay of the metastable state to the ground state through a helix inversion occurs fourteen orders of magnitude more slowly than the excited state decay, and was measured as a function of substituent size, solvent viscosity and temperature. In this case neither substituent size nor solvent viscosity influences the rate, which is entirely determined by the activation barrier. This result is different to similar studies of an earlier generation of molecular motors, which suggests different microscopic mechanisms are in operation in the different generations. Finally, the rate of photochemical isomerization was studied for the series of motors, and those with the largest volume substituents showed the highest photochemical cross section.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2138–2150
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry A
Issue number10
Early online date20 Feb 2017
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2017

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