A photochemically driven molecular-level abacus

Peter R. Ashton*, Roberto Ballardini, Vincenzo Balzani, Alberto Credi, Klaus Ruprecht Dress, Eléna Ishow, Cornelis J. Kleverlaan, Oldrich Kocian, Jon A. Preece, Neil Spencer, J. Fraser Stoddart, Margherita Venturi, Sabine Wenger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

315 Scopus citations


A molecular-level abacus-like system driven by light inputs has been designed in the form of a [2]rotaxane, comprising the π-electron-donating macrocyclic polyether bis-p-phenylene-34-crown-10 (BPP34C10) and a dumb-bell-shaped component that contains 1) a RuII polypyridine complex as one of its stoppers in the form of a photoactive unit, 2) a p-terphenyl-type ring system as a rigid spacer, 3) a 4,4′-bipyridinium unit and a 3,3′-dimethyl-4,4′-bipyridinium unit as π-electron-accepting stations, and 4) a tetraarylmethane group as the second stopper. The synthesis of the [2]rotaxane was accomplished in four successive stages. First of all, the dumbbell-shaped component of the [2]rotaxane was constructed by using conventional synthetic methodology to make 1) the so-called "west-side" comprised of the RuII polypyridine complex linked by a bismethylene spacer to the p-terphenyl-type ring system terminated by a benzylic bromomethyl function and 2) the so-called "east-side" comprised of the tetraarylmethane group, attached by a polyether linkage to the bipyridinium unit, itself joined in turn by a trismethylene spacer to an incipient 3,3′-dimethyl-4,4′-bipyridinium unit. Next, 3) the "west-side" and "east-side" were fused together by means of an alkylation to give the dumbbell-shaped compound, which was 4) finally subjected to a thermodynamically driven slippage reaction, with BPP34C10 as the ring, to afford the [2]rotaxane. The structure of this interlocked molecular compound was characterized by mass spectrometry and NMR spectroscopy, which also established, along with cyclic voltammetry, the co-conformational behavior of the molecular shuttle. The stable translational isomer is the one in which the BPP34C10 component encircles the 4,4′-bipyridinium unit, in keeping with the fact that this station is a better π-electron acceptor than the other station. This observation raises the question -can the BPP34C10 macrocycle be made to shuttle between the two stations by a sequence of photoinduced electron transfer processes? In order to find an answer to this question, the electrochemical, photophysical, and photochemical (under continuous and pulsed excitation) properties of the [2]rotaxane, its dumbbell-shaped component, and some model compounds containing electro-and photoactive units have been investigated. In an attempt to obtain the photoinduced abacus-like movement of the BPP34C10 macrocycle between the two stations, two strategies have been employed - one was based fully on processes that involved only the rotaxane components (intramolecular mechanism), while the other one required the help of external reactants (sacrificial mechanism). Both mechanisms imply a sequence of four steps (destabilization of the stable translational isomer, macrocyclic ring displacement, electronic reset, and nuclear reset) that have to compete with energy-wasteful steps. The results have demonstrated that photochemically driven switching can be performed successfully by the sacrificial mechanism, whereas, in the case of the intramolecular mechanism, it would appear that the electronic reset of the system is faster than the ring displacement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3558-3574
Number of pages17
JournalChemistry - A European Journal
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 2 2000


  • Electron transfer
  • Molecular devices
  • Molecular switch
  • Photochemistry
  • Redox chemistry
  • Rotaxanes
  • Self-assembly

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Organic Chemistry


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