Spectroscopic Tracking of Structural Evolution in Ultrafast Stilbene Photoisomerization

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Science  14 Nov 2008:
Vol. 322, Issue 5904, pp. 1073-1077
DOI: 10.1126/science.1160902

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Understanding a chemical reaction ultimately requires the knowledge of how each atom in the reactants moves during product formation. Such knowledge is seldom complete and is often limited to an oversimplified reaction coordinate that neglects global motions across the molecular framework. To overcome this limit, we recorded transient impulsive Raman spectra during ultrafast photoisomerization of cis-stilbene in solution. The results demonstrate a gradual frequency shift of a low-frequency spectator vibration, reflecting changes in the restoring force along this coordinate throughout the isomerization. A high-level quantum-chemical calculation reproduces this feature and associates it with a continuous structural change leading to the twisted configuration. This combined spectroscopic and computational approach should be amenable to detailed reaction visualization in other photoisomerizing systems as well.

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