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Acylhydrazones as Widely Tunable Photoswitches

van Dijken, Derk Jan, Kovaříček, Petr, Ihrig, Svante P., Hecht, Stefan
Journal of the American Chemical Society 2015 v.137 no.47 pp. 14982-14991
absorbance, half life, spectral analysis
Molecular photoswitches have attracted much attention in biological and materials contexts. Despite the fact that existing classes of these highly interesting functional molecules have been heavily investigated and optimized, distinct obstacles and inherent limitations remain. Considerable synthetic efforts and complex structure–property relationships render the development and exploitation of new photoswitch families difficult. Here, we focus our attention on acylhydrazones: a novel, yet underexploited class of photochromic molecules based on the imine structural motif. We optimized the synthesis of these potent photoswitches and prepared a library of over 40 compounds, bearing different substituents in all four crucial positions of the backbone fragment, and conducted a systematic study of their photochromic properties as a function of structural variation. This modular family of organic photoswitches offers a unique combination of properties and the compounds are easily prepared on large scales within hours, through an atom-economic synthesis, from commercially available starting materials. During our thorough spectroscopic investigations, we identified photoswitches covering a wide range of thermal half-lives of their (Z)-isomers, from short-lived T-type to thermally stable P-type derivatives. By proper substitution, excellent band separation between the absorbance maxima of (E)- and (Z)-isomers in the UV or visible region could be achieved. Our library furthermore includes notable examples of rare negative photochromic systems, and we show that acylhydrazones are highly fatigue resistant and exhibit good quantum yields.