Solvent Effects on Ultrafast Photochemical Pathways

Ravi Kumar Venkatraman, Andrew J Orr-Ewing*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)
205 Downloads (Pure)


Photochemical reactions are increasingly being used for chemical and materials synthesis, for example in photoredox catalysis, and generally involve photoexcitation of molecular chromophores dissolved in a liquid solvent. The choice of solvent influences the outcomes of the photochemistry because solute-solvent interactions modify the energies of, and crossings between, electronic states of the chromophores, and they affect the evolving structures of the photoexcited molecules. Ultrafast laser spectroscopy methods with femtosecond to picosecond time resolution can resolve the dynamics of these photoexcited molecules as they undergo structural and electronic changes, relax back to the ground state, dissipate their excess internal energy to the surrounding solvent, or undergo photochemical reactions. In this account, we illustrate how experimental studies using ultrafast lasers can reveal the influences that different solvents or co-solutes exert on the photo-induced non-adiabatic dynamics of internal conversion and intersystem crossing in non-radiative relaxation pathways. Although the environment surrounding a solute molecule is rapidly changing, with fluctuations in the coordination to neighbouring solvent molecules occurring on femtosecond or picosecond timescales, we show that it is possible to photoexcite selectively only those molecular chromophores transiently experiencing specific solute-solvent interactions such as intermolecular hydrogen bonding.
The effects of different solvation environments on the photodynamics are illustrated using four selected examples of photochemical processes in which the solvent has a marked effect on the outcomes. We first consider two aromatic carbonyl compounds, benzophenone and acetophenone which are known to undergo fast intersystem crossing to populate the first excited triplet state on timescales of a few picoseconds. We show that the non-adiabatic excited-state dynamics are modified by transient hydrogen bonding of the carbonyl group to a protic solvent, or by coordination to a metal cation co-solute. We then examine how different solvents modify the competition between two alternative relaxation pathways in a photoexcited UVA-sunscreen molecule, diethylamino hydroxybenzoyl hexyl benzoate (DHHB). This relaxation back to the ground electronic state is an essential part of the effective operation of the sunscreen compound, but the dynamics are sensitive to the surrounding environment. Finally, we consider how solvents of different polarity affect the energies and lifetimes of excited states with locally excited or charge-transfer character in heterocyclic organic compounds used as excited-state electron donors for photoredox catalysis. With these and other examples, we seek to develop a molecular level understanding of how the choice of solution environment might be used to control the outcomes of photochemical reactions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4383-4394
Number of pages12
JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 29 Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The research presented in this Account was supported by EPSRC Grants EP/R012695/1 and EP/V026690/1, ERC Advanced Grant 290966 CAPRI, and a SERB-Royal Society Newton International Fellowship (NF160517). We are grateful to Dr. Mahima Sneha, Dr. Aditi Bhattacherjee, Dr. Min-Hsien Kao, Dr. Luke Lewis-Borrell, Dr. Patrick Robertson, Hannah Bishop, Matthew Wilton, Gordano Amoruso, Jasper Tyler, Dr. Ryan Phelps, Georgia Thornton, Dr. Tom Oliver, and Dr. Ian Clark for their contributions to the work described here.

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