While the influence of proquinoidal character upon the linear absorption spectrum of low optical bandgap π-conjugated polymers and molecules is well understood, its impact upon excited-state relaxation pathways and dynamics remains obscure. We report the syntheses, electronic structural properties, and excited-state dynamics of a series of model highly conjugated near-infrared (NIR)-absorbing chromophores based on a (porphinato)metal(ii)-proquinoidal spacer-(porphinato)metal(ii) (PM-Sp-PM) structural motif. A combination of excited-state dynamical studies and time-dependent density functional theory calculations: (i) points to the cardinal role that excited-state configuration interaction (CI) plays in determining the magnitudes of S1 → S0 radiative (kr), S1 → T1 intersystem crossing (kISC), and S1 → S0 internal conversion (kIC) rate constants in these PM-Sp-PM chromophores, and (ii) suggests that a primary determinant of CI magnitude derives from the energetic alignment of the PM and Sp fragment LUMOs (ΔEL). These insights not only enable steering of excited-state relaxation dynamics of high oscillator strength NIR absorbers to realize either substantial fluorescence or long-lived triplets (τT1 > μs) generated at unit quantum yield (ΦISC = 100%), but also crafting of those having counter-intuitive properties: for example, while (porphinato)platinum compounds are well known to generate non-emissive triplet states (ΦISC = 100%) upon optical excitation at ambient temperature, diminishing the extent of excited-state CI in these systems realizes long-wavelength absorbing heavy-metal fluorophores. This work highlights approaches to: (i) modulate low-lying singlet excited-state lifetime over the picosecond-to-nanosecond time domain, (ii) achieve NIR fluorescence with quantum yields up to 25%, (iii) tune the magnitude of S1-T1 ISC rate constant from 109 to 1012 s-1 and (iv) realize T1-state lifetimes that range from ∼0.1 to several μs, for these model PM-Sp-PM chromophores, and renders new insights to evolve bespoke photophysical properties for low optical bandgap π-conjugated polymers and molecules based on proquinoidal conjugation motifs.
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