Many photoinduced processes including photosynthesis and human vision happen in organic molecules and involve coupled femtosecond dynamics of nuclei and electrons. Organic molecules with heteroatoms often possess an important excited-state relaxation channel from an optically allowed ππ* to a dark nπ* state. The ππ*/nπ * internal conversion is difficult to investigate, as most spectroscopic methods are not exclusively sensitive to changes in the excited-state electronic structure. Here, we report achieving the required sensitivity by exploiting the element and site specificity of near-edge soft X-ray absorption spectroscopy. As a hole forms in the n orbital during ππ*/nπ* internal conversion, the absorption spectrum at the heteroatom K-edge exhibits an additional resonance. We demonstrate the concept using the nucleobase thymine at the oxygen K-edge, and unambiguously show that ππ*/nπ* internal conversion takes place within (60 +/- 30) fs. High-level-coupled cluster calculations confirm the method's impressive electronic structure sensitivity for excited-state investigations.
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- Atomic and molecular interactions with photons
- Chemical physics