Confined Fast and Ultrafast Dynamics of a Photochromic Proton-Transfer Dye within a Zeolite Nanocage

We report on studies of salicylaldehyde azine (SAA) dissolved in dichloromethane solution and within the cages of the faujasite zeolite (NaX) using steady-state and femtosecond to nanosecond time-resolved spectroscopy. In solution, an excited-state intramolecular proton-transfer reaction takes place in less than 80 fs, leading to a keto-type tautomer. In contrast within NaX zeolite, a zwitterionic (Z) form is present both at S0 and S1 states, and a large hypsochromic shift of the stationary emission spectrum is observed. The increase in fluorescence lifetime upon encapsulation (from 54 ps to 0.2−2.8 ns) is mainly due to hindrance in twisting motion of the confined Z structure imposed by the nanocage. A significant dependence of the lifetimes on the guest concentration inside the zeolite indicates an interaction between neighboring guest molecules leading to a quenching of the fluorescence. The analysis of emission decays using stretched-exponential model suggests that the excited-state interactions between neighboring dyes play a key role in the deactivation of the trapped Z fluorophores. For the ultrafast relaxation dynamics of the SAA/NaX composite, intramolecular vibrational-energy redistribution and vibrational cooling process occur in longer times (up to 360 fs and 5 ps, respectively). Additionally, the presence of nonfluorescent twisted (n,π*) state is suggested to form in 6−10 ps. We believe that our results are important for a better understanding of the photocycle of azine-based photochromic material when interacting with nanomaterials.