Infoscience

Thesis

Photophysics and Photochemistry from First Principles: Applications to Problems in Materials Science and Biology

Quantum chemical methods are important tools for the predictions of electronic structure and energetics of molecules providing the interpretation of spectroscopic experiments and reaction mechanisms. In this thesis, density functional theory (DFT) and wavefunction-based methods are used in order to evaluate their ability in predicting experimental data with a particular attention to photoprocesses occurring in both gas and condensed phase systems. The cases studied in this work are inspired by problems both from biology and material science. In the first study, the photoexcitation properties of the molecule 7-hydroxyquinoline·(NH3)3, a prototypical molecular wire, are investigated. A concerted mechanism according to which all protons are transferred simultaneously in a fast process (∼ 100 fs) that amounts to the net transport of one proton from the oxygen to the nitrogen of 7-hydroxyquinoline is observed. In addition, the proton transfer pathway involves all three ammonia molecules and not only two as previously proposed. The presence of potential energy surface crossings with a dark-state is responsible for the low experimentally observed quantum-yield. To better understand the complex photophysics of the amino acid tryptophan, which is widely used as a probe of protein structure, we performed DFT and TDDFT calculations of gas phase tryptophan solvated with a controlled number of water molecules. The addition of two water molecules sufficiently lengthens the excited state lifetime enabling vibrationally resolved spectra. Quantum chemical calculations at the RI-CC2/aug-cc-pVDZ level, together with TDDFT/pw based first-principles MD simulations of the excited state dynamics, clearly demonstrate how interactions with water destabilize the photodissociative states and increase the excited state lifetime. Due to the availability of high-resolution experimental data, this system is ideally suited as benchmark model for the evaluation of the performance of different quantum chemical methods. An extensive low-energy isomer search was carried out for [TrpH·(H2O)n=0,1,2]+ using a hierarchy of theoretical methods ranging from classical force fields to a variety of DFT methods (BLYP, B3LYP, M05, M05-2X, M06, M06-2X and M06-HF with different basis sets) up to the CBS-C level. For the low-energy structures, the harmonic vibrational frequencies are calculated and compared with high resolution experimental IR spectra. It turns out that in all three cases, CBS-C is able to predict the lowest energy isomers that are in agreement with the experimentally observed vibrational spectra. In most cases, M06 provides energetics in close agreement with the CBS-C results. On the other hand, M05-2X is the only functional that yields highly-reliable predictions of the vibrational spectra. A natural extension of the tryptophan model to condensed phase was performed by an investigation of the [Trp-Lys]+ motif studied in the protein Human Serum Albumin via QM/MM simulations. Like in the case of gas phase [TrpH]+, solvation effects lead to an increase of the σ*N-H orbital energies. As a result, the first photoaccessible state of sW K+ is primarily a photostable π* orbital, while in dW K+, photoexcitation leads to a dissociative pathway. The last application of this work concerns the optical properties of a novel dye for the sensitization of titanium dioxyde nanoparticles in Grätzel solar cells. The presence of a new absorption band in the visible region opens the way for a rational design of new dyes with improved properties.

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