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Reversible and Efficient Light-Induced Molecular Switching on an Insulator Surface

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journal contribution
posted on 09.01.2018, 00:00 by Simon Jaekel, Antje Richter, Robert Lindner, Ralf Bechstein, Christophe Nacci, Stefan Hecht, Angelika Kühnle, Leonhard Grill
Prototypical molecular switches such as azobenzenes exhibit two states, i.e., trans and cis, with different characteristic physical properties. In recent years various derivatives were investigated on metallic surfaces. However, bulk insulators as supporting substrate reveal important advantages since they allow electronic decoupling from the environment, which is key to control the switching properties. Here, we report on the light-induced isomerization of an azobenzene derivative on a bulk insulator surface, in this case calcite (101̅4), studied by atomic force microscopy with submolecular resolution. Surprisingly, cis isomers appear on the surface already directly after preparation, indicating kinetic trapping. The photoisomerization process is reversible, as the use of different light sources results in specific molecular assemblies of each isomer. The process turns out to be very efficient and even comparable to molecules in solution, which we assign to the rather weak molecular interaction with the insulator surface, in contrast to metals.