Unravelling the mechanisms of vibrational relaxation in solution
We present a systematic study of the mode-specific vibrational relaxation of NO2 in six weakly-interacting solvents (perfluorohexane, perfluoromethylcyclohexane, perfluorodecalin, carbon tetrachloride, chloroform, and d-chloroform), chosen to elucidate the dominant energy transfer mechanisms in the solution phase. Broadband transient vibrational absorption spectroscopy has allowed us to extract quantum state-resolved relaxation dynamics of the two distinct NO2 fragments produced from the 340 nm photolysis of N2O4 → NO2(X) + NO2(A) and their separate paths to thermal equilibrium. Distinct relaxation pathways are observed for the NO2 bending and stretching modes, even at energies as high as 7000 cm−1 above the potential minimum. Vibrational energy transfer is governed by different interaction mechanisms in the various solvent environments, and proceeds with timescales ranging from 20–1100 ps. NO2 relaxation rates in the perfluorocarbon solvents are identical despite differences in acceptor mode state densities, infrared absorption cross sections, and local solvent structure. Vibrational energy is shown to be transferred to non-vibrational solvent degrees of freedom (V-T) through impulsive collisions with the perfluorocarbon molecules. Conversely, NO2 relaxation in chlorinated solvents is reliant on vibrational resonances (V-V) while V-T energy transfer is inefficient and thermal excitation of the surrounding solvent molecules inhibits faster vibrational relaxation through direct complexation. Intramolecular vibrational redistribution allows the symmetric stretch of NO2 to act as a gateway for antisymmetric stretch energy to exit the molecule. This study establishes an unprecedented level of detail for the cooling dynamics of a solvated small molecule, and provides a benchmark system for future theoretical studies of vibrational relaxation processes in solution.