Vapor-Deposited Glasses Highlight the Role of Density in Photostability

KM Salerno and JL Lenhart and JJ de Pablo and TW Sirk, JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL CHEMISTRY B, 124, 6112-6120 (2020).

DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpcb.0c03579

Photoresponsive molecules can be integrated into glassy materials to probe the local environment and invoke responsive changes in polymer behavior. For example, recent experiments and simulations have studied increased stability in vapor-deposited glasses by examining the photoisomerization rate of a probe molecule. At the theoretical level, past work relied on coarse-grained simulations to explain the role of photoisomerization on glass behavior. In order to effectively exploit these molecular probes, an ability to quantify how the local environment influences the photoisomerization rate is needed. In this work, we present all-atom molecular-dynamics (MD) simulations of molecular glasses of photoresponsive azobenzene (AB) molecules. The stability of these in-silico samples is probed using photoisomerization, where AB molecules can undergo trans. cis transition upon light exposure. Vapor- deposited and bulk-cooled glasses of AB are simulated using a classical dihedral-switching potential developed by Bockmann et al. (J. Phys. Chem. A 2010, 114, 745-754) to model the photoisomerization process. The MD simulations include thousands of molecules and run for tens of nanoseconds. These size and time scales allow us to explore the broad distribution of photoisomerization wait times, which yields two results. First, the wait-time distributions for both physical vapor deposition and bulk-cooled glasses depend strongly on sample and local density, showing that density or local packing is a primary factor in glass stability against photoisomerization and the experimentally measured photoresponse. Second, the distribution follows a power-law with exponent b approximate to 1.25-1.3 that extends to longer times with increasing density. The power-law distribution suggests a connection with previous experiments that related barriers to photoisomerization with an effective photoisomerization temperature.

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