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Submolecular Plasticization Induced by Photons in Azobenzene Materials

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Details

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13510-13517
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Volume137
Issue number42
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 28 Oct 2015
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Abstract

We demonstrate experimentally for the first time that the illumination of azobenzene derivatives leads to changes in molecular environment similar to those observed on heating but that are highly heterogeneous at the submolecular scale. This localized photoplasticization, which can be associated with a free volume gradient, helps to understand the puzzling phenomenon of photoinduced macroscopic material flow and photoexpansion upon illumination far below the glass transition temperature (Tg). The findings stem from the correlation of infrared (IR) spectral band shifts measured upon illumination with those measured at controlled temperatures for two amorphous DR1-functionalized azo derivatives, a polymer, pDR1A, and a molecular glass, gDR1. This new approach reveals that IR spectroscopy can be used as an efficient label-free molecular-scale thermometer that allows the assignment of an effective temperature (Teff) to each moiety in these compounds when irradiated. While no band shift is observed upon illumination for the vibrational modes assigned to backbone moieties of pDR1A and gDR1 and a small band shift is found for the spacer moiety, dramatic band shifts are recorded for the azo moiety, corresponding to an increase in Teff of up to nearly 200 °C and a molecular environment that is equivalent to thermal heating well above the bulk Tg of the material. An irradiated azo-containing material thus combines characteristic properties of amorphous materials both below and above its bulk Tg. The direct measurement of Teff is a powerful probe of the local environment at the submolecular scale, paving the way toward better rationalization of photoexpansion and the athermal malleability of azo-containing materials upon illumination below their Tg.