A solution-based single-molecule study of surface-bound PBIs: solvent-mediated environmental effects on molecular flexibility†
We have investigated the fundamental photophysical properties of surface-bound perylene bisimide (PBI) molecules in a solution-phase at the single-molecule level. By efficient immobilization of single PBIs on glass, we were able to simultaneously monitor fluorescence intensity trajectories, fluorescence lifetimes, and emission spectra of individual PBIs in organic and aqueous media using confocal microscopy. We showed that the fluorescence dynamics of single PBIs in the solution phase is highly dependent on their local and chemical environments. Furthermore, we visualized different spatial-fluctuations of surface-bound PBIs using defocused wide-field imaging. While PBIs show more steric flexibility in organic media, the flexible motion of PBI molecules in aqueous solution is relatively prohibited due to a cage effect by a hydrogen bonding network, which is previously unobserved. Our method opens up a new possibility to investigate the photophysical properties of multi-chromophoric systems in various solvents at the single-molecule level for developing optimal molecular devices such as water-proof devices.