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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Ultrafast X-ray Transient Absorption Spectroscopy of Gas-Phase Photochemical Reactions: A New Universal Probe of Photoinduced Molecular Dynamics.

  • Author(s): Bhattacherjee, Aditi
  • Leone, Stephen R
  • et al.

Time-resolved spectroscopic investigations of light-induced chemical reactions with universal detection capitalize recently on single-photon molecular probing using laser pulses in the extreme ultraviolet or X-ray regimes. Direct and simultaneous mappings of the time-evolving populations of ground-state reactants, Franck-Condon (FC) and transition state regions, excited-state intermediates and conical intersections (CI), and photoproducts in photochemical reactions utilize probe pulses that are broadband and energy-tunable. The limits on temporal resolution are set by the transit- or dwell-time of the photoexcited molecules at specific locations on the potential energy surface, typically ranging from a few femtoseconds to several hundred picoseconds. Femtosecond high-harmonic generation (HHG) meets the stringent demands for a universal spectroscopic probe of large regions of the intramolecular phase-space in unimolecular photochemical reactions. Extreme-ultraviolet and soft X-ray pulses generated in this manner with few-femtosecond or sub-femtosecond durations have enormous bandwidths, allowing the probing of many elements simultaneously through excitation or ionization of core-electrons, creating molecular movies that shed light on entire photochemical pathways. At free electron lasers (FELs), powerful investigations are also possible, recognizing their higher flux and tunability but more limited bandwidths. Femtosecond time-resolved X-ray transient absorption spectroscopy, in particular, is a valuable universal probe of reaction pathways that maps changes via the fingerprint core-to-valence resonances. The particular power of this method over valence-ionization probes lies in its unmatched element and chemical-site specificities. The elements carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen constitute the fundamental building blocks of life; photochemical reactions involving these elements are ubiquitous, diverse, and manifold. However, table-top HHG sources in the "water-window" region (280-550 eV), which encompasses the 1s-absorption edges of carbon (284 eV), nitrogen (410 eV), and oxygen (543 eV), are far from abundant or trivial. Recent breakthroughs in the laboratory have embraced this region by using long driving-wavelength optical parametric amplifiers coupled with differentially pumped high-pressure gas source cells. This has opened avenues to study a host of photochemical reactions in organic molecules using femtosecond time-resolved transient absorption at the carbon K-edge. In this Account, we summarize recent efforts to deploy a table-top carbon K-edge source to obtain crucial chemical insights into ultrafast, ultraviolet-induced chemical reactions involving ring-opening, nonadiabatic excited-state relaxation, bond dissociation and radical formation. The X-ray probe provides a direct spectroscopic viewport into the electronic characters and configurations of the valence electronic states through spectroscopic core-level transitions into the frontier molecular orbitals of the photoexcited molecules, laying fertile ground for the real-time mapping of the evolving valence electronic structure. The profound detail and mechanistic insights emerging from the pioneering experiments at the carbon K-edge are outlined here. Comparisons of the experimental methodology with other techniques employed to study similar reactions are drawn, where applicable and relevant. We show that femtosecond time-resolved X-ray transient absorption spectroscopy blazes a new trail in the study of nonadiabatic molecular dynamics. Despite table-top implementations being largely in their infancy, future chemical applications of the technique will set the stage for widely applicable, universal probes of photoinduced molecular dynamics with unprecedented temporal resolution.

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