Visible light-triggered gel-to-sol transition in halogen-bond-based supramolecules†
Photoresponsive supramolecular gels have aroused continuous attention because of their extensive applications; however, most studies utilize UV light, which inevitably brings about some health and environmental issues. The halogen bond is an important driving force for constructing supramolecules due to its high directionality, tunable strength, good hydrophobicity, and large size of the halogen atoms. Yet, it still remains a formidable challenge to utilize halogen bonds as a driving force to fabricate a visible light responsive gel. In this work, to fabricate such a gel, azopyridine-containing Azopy-Cn (n = 8, 10, 12) was selected as a halogen bond acceptor, while 1,2-bis(2,3,5,6-tetrafluoro-4-iodophenyl)diazene (BTFIPD) was chosen as both the halogen bond donor and visible light responsive moiety. The visible light response of BTFIPD resulted from the significant separation of n–π* energy levels between trans and cis isomers due to the introduction of an electron-withdrawing group (fluorine) to azobenzene at the ortho-position. Interestingly, the gel exhibited a good gel-to-sol transition behavior upon green light irradiation. At the same time, the morphologies varied from uniform narrow flakes to broad sheets with increasing illumination time. We provide an environmentally-friendly visible light-triggered method to regulate the phase transition of supramolecular materials in applications ranging from energy conversion to information storage.