Ultrafast Photophysics of Transition Metal Complexes
CONSPECTUS: The properties of transition metal complexes are interesting not only for their potential applications in solar energy conversion, OLEDs, molecular electronics, biology, photochemistry, etc. but also for their fascinating photophysical properties that call for a rethinking of fundamental concepts. With the advent of ultrafast spectroscopy over 25 years ago and, more particularly, with improvements in the past 10-15 years, a new area of study was opened that has led to insightful observations of the intramolecular relaxation processes such as internal conversion (IC), intersystem crossing (ISC), and intramolecular vibrational redistribution (IVR). Indeed, ultrafast optical spectroscopic tools, such as fluorescence up-conversion, show that in many cases, intramolecular relaxation processes can be extremely fast and even shorter than time scales of vibrations. In addition, more and more examples are appearing showing that ultrafast ISC rates do not scale with the magnitude of the metal spin orbit coupling constant, that is, that there is no heavy-atom effect on ultrafast time scales. It appears that the structural dynamics of the system and the density of states play a crucial role therein. While optical spectroscopy delivers an insightful picture of electronic relaxation processes involving valence orbitals, the photophysics of metal complexes involves excitations that may be centered on the metal (called metal-centered or MC) or the ligand (called ligand-centered or LC) or involve a transition from one to the other or vice versa (called MLCT or LMCT). These excitations call for an element-specific probe of the photophysics, which is achieved by X-ray absorption spectroscopy. In this case, transitions from core orbitals to valence orbitals or higher allow probing the electronic structure changes induced by the optical excitation of the valence orbitals, while also delivering information about the geometrical rearrangement of the neighbor atoms around the atom of interest. With the emergence of new instruments such as X-ray free electron lasers (XFELs), it is now possible to perform ultrafast laser pump/X-ray emission probe experiments. In this case, one probes the density of occupied states. These core-level spectroscopies and other emerging ones, such as photoelectron spectroscopy of solutions, are delivering a hitherto unseen degree of detail into the photophysics of metal-based molecular complexes. In this Account, we will give examples of applications of the various methods listed above to address specific photophysical processes.