How Does a Plasmon-Induced Hot Charge Carrier Break a C–C Bond?

Hot-electron chemistry at gold nanoparticle (AuNP) surfaces has received much attention recently because its understanding provides a basis for plasmonic photocatalysis and photovoltaics. Nonradiative decay of excited surface plasmons produces energetic hot charge carriers that transfer to adsorbate molecules and induce chemical reactions. Such plasmon-driven reactions, however, have been limited to a few systems, notably the dimerization of 4-aminobenzenethiol to 4,4′-dimercaptoazobenzene. In this work, we explore a new class of plasmon-driven reactions associated with a unimolecular bond cleavage process. We unveil the mechanism of the decarboxylation reaction of 4-mercaptobenzoic acid and extend the mechanism to account for the β-cleavage reaction of 4-mercaptobenzyl alcohol. Combining the construction of well-controlled nanogap systems and sensitive Raman spectroscopy with methodical changes of experimental conditions (laser wavelengths, interface materials, pH, ambient gases, etc.), we track the hot charge carriers from the formation to the transfer to reactants, which provides insights into how plasmon excitation eventually leads to the C–C bond cleavage of the molecules in the nanogap.