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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Direct Imaging of Frenkel Exciton Transport by Ultrafast Microscopy

Tong Zhu, Yan Wan, Libai Huang
Accounts of Chemical Research 2017 July 18, 50 (7): 1725-1733
28678469
Long-range transport of Frenkel excitons is crucial for achieving efficient molecular-based solar energy harvesting. Understanding of exciton transport mechanisms is important for designing materials for solar energy applications. One major bottleneck in unraveling of exciton transport mechanisms is the lack of direct measurements to provide information in both spatial and temporal domains, imposed by the combination of fast energy transfer (typically ≤1 ps) and short exciton diffusion lengths (typically ≤100 nm). This challenge requires developing experimental tools to directly characterize excitation energy transport, and thus facilitate the elucidation of mechanisms. To address this challenge, we have employed ultrafast transient absorption microscopy (TAM) as a means to directly image exciton transport with ∼200 fs time resolution and ∼50 nm spatial precision. By mapping population in spatial and temporal domains, such approach has unraveled otherwise obscured information and provided important parameters for testing exciton transport models. In this Account, we discuss the recent progress in imaging Frenkel exciton migration in molecular crystals and aggregates by ultrafast microscopy. First, we establish the validity of the TAM methods by imaging singlet and triplet exciton transport in a series of polyacene single crystals that undergo singlet fission. A new singlet-mediated triplet transport pathway has been revealed by TAM, resulting from the equilibrium between triplet and singlet exciton populations. Such enhancement of triplet exciton transport enables triplet excitons to migrate as singlet excitons and leads to orders of magnitude faster apparent triplet exciton diffusion rate in the picosecond and nanosecond time scales, favorable for solar cell applications. Next we discuss how information obtained by ultrafast microscopy can evaluate coherent effects in exciton transport. We use tubular molecular aggregates that could support large exciton delocalization sizes as a model system. The initial experiments measure exciton diffusion constants of 3-6 cm2 s-1 , 3-5 times higher than the incoherent limit predicted by theory, suggesting that coherent effects play a role. In summary, combining ultrafast spectroscopic methods with microscopic techniques provides a direct approach for obtaining important parameters to unravel the underlying exciton transport mechanisms in molecular solids. We discuss future directions to bridge the gap in understanding of fundamental energy transfer theories to include coherent and incoherent effects. We are still in the infancy of ultrafast microscopy, and the vast potential is not limited to the systems discussed in this Account.

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