Complete Mechanism of Hemithioindigo Motor Rotation

J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2018, 140 (15), pp 5311–5318, DOI: 10.1021/jacs.8b02349
J. Am. Chem. Soc., online article

 

Hemithioindigo-based molecular motors are powered by nondamaging visible light and provide very fast directional rotations at ambient conditions. Their ground state energy profile has been probed in detail, but the crucial excited state processes are completely unknown so far. In addition, very fast processes in the ground state are also still elusive to date and thus knowledge of the whole operational mechanism remains to a large extent in the dark. In this work we elucidate the complete light-driven rotation mechanism by a combination of multiscale broadband transient absorption measurements covering a time scale from fs to ms in conjunction with a high level theoretical description of the excited state. In addition to a full description of the excited state dynamics in the various time regimes, we also provide the first experimental evidence for the elusive fourth intermediate ground state of the original HTI motor. The fate of this intermediate also is followed directly proving complete unidirectionality for both 180° rotation steps. At the same time, we uncover the hitherto unknown involvement of an unproductive triplet state pathway, which slightly diminishes the quantum yield of the E to Z photoisomerization. A rate model analysis shows that increasing the speed of motor rotation is most effectively done by increasing the photoisomerization quantum yields instead of barrier reduction for the thermal ratcheting steps. Our findings are of crucial importance for improved future designs of any light-driven molecular motor in general to yield better efficiencies and applicability.
 

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