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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 Jun 19;98(13):7117-22. Epub 2001 Jun 12.

Ultrafast diffraction and structural dynamics: the nature of complex molecules far from equilibrium.

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  • 1Laboratory for Molecular Sciences, Arthur Amos Noyes Laboratory of Chemical Physics, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA.


Studies of molecular structures at or near their equilibrium configurations have long provided information on their geometry in terms of bond distances and angles. Far-from-equilibrium structures are relatively unknown-especially for complex systems-and generally, neither their dynamics nor their average geometries can be extrapolated from equilibrium values. For such nonequilibrium structures, vibrational amplitudes and bond distances play a central role in phenomena such as energy redistribution and chemical reactivity. Ultrafast electron diffraction, which was developed to study transient molecular structures, provides a direct method for probing the nature of complex molecules far from equilibrium. Here we present our ultrafast electron diffraction observations of transient structures for two cyclic hydrocarbons. At high internal energies of approximately 4 eV, these molecules display markedly different behavior. For 1,3,5-cycloheptatriene, excitation results in the formation of hot ground-state structures with bond distances similar to those of the initial structure, but with nearly three times the average vibrational amplitude. Energy is redistributed within 5 ps, but with a negative temperature characterizing the nonequilibrium population. In contrast, the ring-opening reaction of 1,3-cyclohexadiene is shown to result in hot structures with a CC bond distance of over 1.7 A, which is 0.2 A away from any expected equilibrium value. Even up to 400 ps, energy remains trapped in large-amplitude motions comprised of torsion and asymmetric stretching. These studies promise a new direction for studying structural dynamics in nonequilibrium complex systems.

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