Thursday, December 20, 2012

Deconstructing excited state dynamics in a solvent

What determines the excited state lifetime of a chromophore in a solvent?
What are the relative importance of the polarity of the solvent [dielectric relaxation time] and the viscosity?

The key physics associated with the solvent polarity is that the dipole moment in the ground and excited states are usually different and so the solvent relaxes and there is an associated redshift of the emission. The viscosity is particularly relevant when there is intramolecular twisting and this motion is usually overdamped.

This problem is of fundamental interest because it concerns overdamped quantum dynamics.
It is of applied interest because significant biomolecular sensors make use of the sensitivity of specific chromophores [e.g. Thioflavin-T binding to amyloid fybrils].

Two recent papers from Dan Huppert's group raise three important questions for me.

An Accounts in Chemical Research
Molecular Rotors: What Lies Behind the High Sensitivity of the Thioflavin-T Fluorescent Marker?
raises the question:
1. What is unique about Thioflavin-T? 
How are the photophysical properties fine tuned?

The authors give convincing arguments as to why Thioflavin-T works. Some of these are reviewed in this earlier post.

However, given there are lots of other chromophores which undergo excited state twisting to dark states [see e.g., this review] it is not clear to me why all these other molecules don't work just as well as Thioflavin-T?

The excited state dynamics is interpreted in terms of the figure below where there are two distinct excited singlet states:
A local excited state (LE) and a twisted intramolecular charge-transfer (TICT) state.

2. Are the LE and TICT states distinct? 
In the simplest two-diabatic state picture there is a single excited state and as the chromophore twists this smoothly evolves from a bright state at the Franck-Condon point to a dark TICT state. This is what Seth Olsen and I found for the chromophore of the Green Fluorescent Protein [see our recent J. Chem. Phys. paper].

The paper
Temperature and Viscosity Dependence of the Nonradiative Decay Rates of Auramine-O and Thioflavin-T in Glass-Forming Solvents
reports that over more than three orders of magnitude the excited state lifetime is proportional to the viscosity and to the dielectric relaxation time.

This raises a subtle issue: causality vs. correlation. The authors point out that in the simple theory of a dielectric liquid the viscosity and the dielectric relaxation time are proportional to one another.

3. Can one separate out the respective contribution of the polarity of the solvent and of the viscosity?

There are two distinct reaction co-ordinates here: the motion associated with each is overdamped. One co-ordinate is the intra-molecular twisting of the solute and which couples to the viscosity of the solvent. The other co-ordinate is the local electric polarisation of the solvent which couples to the dipole moment of the excited state.

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