More efficient photosensitiser design

Friday, 07 February, 2020

More efficient photosensitiser design

Japanese researchers have created a stacked nanocarbon antenna that makes a rare-earth element shine five times more brightly than previous designs when it absorbs low-energy blue light. Their findings, published in the journal Communications Chemistry, could lead to more efficient photosensitisers with a wide variety of applications in molecular light-emitting devices.

Photosensitisers are molecules that become excited when they absorb light and then transfer this excited energy to another molecule. They are used in photochemical reactions, energy conversion systems and photodynamic therapy, which uses light to kill some kinds of early-stage cancer.

The design of currently available photosensitisers often leads to inevitable energy loss, and so they are not as efficient in light absorption and energy transfer as scientists would like. It also requires high-energy light such as UV for excitation.

Yuichi Kitagawa and Yasuchika Hasegawa of Hokkaido University’s Institute for Chemical Reaction Design and Discovery (WPI-ICReDD) worked with colleagues to improve the design of conventional photosensitisers. Their concept is based on extending the lifetime of a molecular energy state called the triplet excited state and reducing gaps between energy levels within the photosensitiser molecule. This would lead to more efficient use of photons and reduced energy loss.

The researchers designed a nanocarbon ‘antenna’ made of coronene, a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon containing six benzene rings. Two nanocarbon antennas are stacked one on top of the other and then connected on either side to the rare-earth metal europium. Extra connectors are added to strengthen the bonds between the nanocarbon antennas and europium. When the nanocarbon antennas absorb light they transfer this energy to europium, causing the complex to emit red light.

Experiments showed the complex best absorbed light with wavelengths of 450 nm. When a blue LED light was shone on the complex it glowed more than five times brighter than the europium complex, which until now had the strongest reported emission under blue light. The researchers also demonstrated that the complex can bear high temperatures above 300°C thanks to its rigid structure.

“This study provides insights into the design of photosensitisers and can lead to photofunctional materials that efficiently utilise low-energy light,” Kitagawa said. He and the team believe their new design could be applied to fabricate molecular light-emitting devices, among other applications.

Image caption: The europium Eu(III) complex with nanocarbon antenna emitting fine red light.

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