Photocrystallographic Studies on Transition Metal Nitrito Metastable Linkage Isomers: Manipulating the Metastable State

Paul Raithby, Lauren Hatcher, Jonathan Skelton, Mark R Warren

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ConspectusThe design of solid-state materials whose properties and functions can be manipulated in a controlled manner by the application of light is an important objective in modern materials chemistry. When the material changes property or function, it is helpful if a simple measurable response, such as a change in color, can be detected. Potential applications for such materials are wide ranging, from data storage to smart windows. With the growing emphasis on solid-state materials that have two or more accessible energy states and which exhibit bistability, attention has turned to transition metal complexes that contain ambidentate ligands that can switch between linkage isomeric forms when activated by light. Suitable ligands that show promise in this area include nitrosyls, nitro groups, and coordinated sulfur dioxide molecules, each of which can coordinate to a metal center in more than one bonding mode. A nitrosyl normally coordinates through its N atom (η 1 -NO) but when photoactivated can undergo isomerism and coordinate through its O atom (η 1 -ON). At a molecular level, converting between these two configurations can act as an "on/off" switch. The analysis of such materials has been aided by the development of photocrystallographic techniques, which allow the full three-dimensional structure of a single crystal of a complex, under photoactivation, to be determined, when it is in either a metastable or short-lived excited state. The technique effectively brings the dimension of "time" to the crystallographic experiment and brings us closer to being able to watch solid-state processes occur in real time.In this Account, we highlight the advances made in photocrystallography for studying solid-state, photoactivated linkage isomerism and describe the factors that favor the switching process and which allow complete switching between isomers. We demonstrate that control of temperature is key to achieving either a metastable state or an excited state with a specific lifetime. We draw our conclusions from published work on the formation of photoactivated metastable states for nitrosyl and sulfur dioxide complexes and from our own work on photoactivated switching between nitro and nitrito groups. We show that efficient switching between isomers is dependent on the wavelength of light used, on the temperature at which the experiment is carried out, on the flexibility of the crystal lattice, and on both the electronic and steric environment of the ambidentate ligand undergoing isomerism. We have designed and prepared a number of nitro/nitrito isomeric metal complexes that undergo reversible 100% conversion between the two forms at temperatures close to room temperature. Through our fine control over the generation of the metastable states, it should be possible to effectively "dial up" a suitable temperature to give a metastable or an excited state with a desired lifetime.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1079-1088
Number of pages10
JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
Issue number4
Early online date27 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 16 Apr 2019


  • photocrystallography
  • linkage isomers
  • photoactivation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry


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