Ultrafast photoinduced electron transfer preceding energy equilibration still poses many experimental and conceptual challenges to the optimization of photoconversion since an atomic-scale description has so far been beyond reach. Here we combine femtosecond transient optical absorption spectroscopy with ultrafast X-ray emission spectroscopy and diffuse X-ray scattering at the SACLA facility to track the non-equilibrated electronic and structural dynamics within a bimetallic donor–acceptor complex that contains an optically dark centre. Exploiting the 100-fold increase in temporal resolution as compared with storage ring facilities, these measurements constitute the first X-ray-based visualization of a non-equilibrated intramolecular electron transfer process over large interatomic distances. Experimental and theoretical results establish that mediation through electronically excited molecular states is a key mechanistic feature. The present study demonstrates the extensive potential of femtosecond X-ray techniques as diagnostics of non-adiabatic electron transfer processes in synthetic and biological systems, and some directions for future studies, are outlined.
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