Photoisomers of Azobenzene Star with a Flat Core: Theoretical Insights into Multiple States from DFT and MD Perspective

M Koch and M Saphiannikova and S Santer and O Guskova, JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL CHEMISTRY B, 121, 8854-8867 (2017).

DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpcb.7b07350

This study focuses on comparing physical properties of photoisomers of an azobenzene star with benzene-1,3,5-tricarboxamide core. Three azobenzene arms of the molecule undergo a reversible trans-cis isomerization upon UV-vis light illumination giving rise to multiple states from the planar all-trans one, via two mixed states to the kinked all-cis isomer. Employing density functional theory, we characterize the structural and photophysical properties of each state indicating a role the planar core plays in the coupling between azobenzene chromophores. To characterize the light-triggered switching of solvophilicity/solvophobicity of the star, the difference in solvation free energy is calculated for the transfer of an azobenzene star from its gas phase to implicit or explicit solvents. For the latter case, classical all-atom molecular dynamics simulations of aqueous solutions of azobenzene star are performed employing the polymer consistent force field to shed light on the thermodynamics of explicit hydration as a function of the isomerization state and on the structuring of water around the star. From the analysis of two contributions to the free energy of hydration, the nonpolar van der Waals and the electrostatic terms, it is concluded that isomerization specificity largely determines the polarity of the molecule and the solute-solvent electrostatic interactions. This convertible hydrophilicity/hydrophobicity together with readjustable occupied volume and the surface area accessible to water, affects the self-assembly/disassembly of the azobenzene star with a flat core triggered by light.

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