Trace mild acid-catalysed Z → E isomerization of norbornene-fused stilbene derivatives: intelligent chiral molecular photoswitches with controllable self-recovery†
Stilbene derivatives have long been known to undergo “acid-catalyzed” Z → E isomerization, where a strong mineral acid at high concentration is practically necessary. Such severe reaction conditions often cause undesired by-reactions and limit their potential application. Herein, we present a trace mild acid-catalyzed Z → E isomerization found with stilbene derivatives fused with a norbornene moiety. By-reactions, such as the migration of the CC double bond and electrophilic addition reactions, were completely inhibited because of the ring strain caused by the fused norbornene component. Direct photolysis of the E isomers at selected wavelengths led to the E → Z photoisomerization of these stilbene derivatives and thus constituted a unique class of molecular switches orthogonally controllable by light and acid. The catalytic amount of acid could be readily removed, and the Z → E isomerization could be controlled by turning on/off the irradiation of a photoacid, which allowed repeated isomerization in a non-invasive manner. Moreover, the Z isomer produced by photoisomerization could spontaneously self-recover to the E isomer in the presence of a catalytic amount of acid. The kinetics of Z → E isomerization were adjustable by manipulating catalytic factors and, therefore, unprecedented molecular photoswitches with adjustable self-recovery were realized.