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Revising Intramolecular Photoinduced Electron Transfer (PET) from First-Principles

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journal contribution
posted on 30.08.2016, 18:21 authored by Daniel Escudero
ConspectusPhotoinduced electron transfer (PET) plays relevant roles in many areas of chemistry, including charge separation processes in photovoltaics, natural and artificial photosynthesis, and photoluminescence sensors and switches. As in many other photochemical scenarios, the structural and energetic factors play relevant roles in determining the rates and efficiencies of PET and its competitive photodeactivation processes. Particularly, in the field of fluorescent sensors and switches, intramolecular PET is believed (in many cases without compelling experimental proof) to be responsible of the quench of fluorescence. There is an increasing experimental interest in fluorophore’s molecular design and on achieving optimal excitation/emission spectra, excitation coefficients, and fluorescence quantum yields (importantly for bioimaging purposes), but less efforts are devoted to fundamental mechanistic studies. In this Account, I revise the origins of the fluorescence quenching in some of these systems with state-of-the-art quantum chemical tools. These studies go beyond the common strategy of analyzing frontier orbital energy diagrams and performing PET thermodynamics calculations. Instead, the potential energy surfaces (PESs) of the lowest-lying excited states are explored with time-dependent density functional theory (TD-DFT) and complete active space self-consistent field (CASSCF) calculations and the radiative and nonradiative decay rates from the involved excited states are computed from first-principles using a thermal vibration correlation function formalism. With such a strategy, this work reveals the real origins of the fluorescence quenching, herein entitled as dark-state quenching. Dark states (those that do not absorb or emit light) are often elusive to experiments and thus, computational investigations can provide novel insights into the actual photodeactivation mechanisms. The success of the dark-state quenching mechanism is demonstrated for a wide variety of fluorescent probes, including proton, cation and anion targets. Furthermore, this mechanism provides a general picture of the fluorescence quenching which englobes intramolecular charge-transfer (ICT), ratiometric quenching, and those radiationless mechanisms believed to be originated by PET. Finally, this Account provides for the first time a computational protocol to quantitatively estimate this phenomenon and provides the ingredients for the optimal design of fluorescent probes from first principles.