This work shows that the operation of near-infrared to visible light-upconversion in a discrete molecule is not limited to non-linear optical processes, but may result from superexcitation processes using linear optics. The design of nine-coordinate metallic sites made up of neutral N-heterocyclic donor atoms in kinetically inert dinuclear [GaEr(L1)3]6+ and trinuclear [GaErGa(L2)3]9+ helicates leads to [ErN9] chromophores displaying unprecedented dual visible nanosecond Er(4S3/2→4I15/2) and near-infrared microsecond Er(4I13/2→4I15/2) emissive components. Attempts to induce one ion excited-state absorption (ESA) upconversion upon near-infrared excitation of these complexes failed because of the too-faint Er-centred absorption cross sections. The replacement of the trivalent gallium cation with a photophysically-tailored pseudo-octahedral [CrN6] chromophore working as a sensitizer for trivalent erbium in [CrEr(L1)3]6+ improves the near-infrared excitation efficiency, leading to the observation of a weak energy transfer upconversion (ETU). The connection of a second sensitizer in [CrErCr(L2)3]9+ generates a novel mechanism for upconversion, in which the superexcitation process is based on the CrIII-sensitizers. Two successive Cr→Er energy transfer processes (concerted-ETU) compete with a standard Er-centred ETU, and a gain in upconverted luminescence by a factor larger than statistical values is predicted and observed.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Dalton Discussion 14: Advancing the chemistry of the f-elements