Tuning ESIPT fluorophores into dual emitters
Dyes undergoing excited-state intramolecular proton transfer (ESIPT) are known to present large Stokes shifts as a result of the important geometrical reorganisation following photon absorption. When the ESIPT process is not quantitative, one can obtain dual emitters characterised by two distinct fluorescence bands, observed due to emissions from both the canonical and ESIPT isomers. However, dual emission generally requires to maintain a very specific balance, as the relative excited-state free energies of the two tautomers have to be within a narrow window to observe the phenomenon. Consequently, simple chemical intuition is insufficient to optimise dual emission. In the present contribution, we investigate, with the help of quantum-mechanical tools and more precisely, time-dependent density functional theory (TD-DFT) and algebraic diagrammatic construction (ADC), a wide panel of possible ESIPT/dual emitters with various substituents. The selected protocol is first shown to be very robust on a series of structures with known experimental behaviour, and next is applied to novel derivatives with various substituents located at different positions. This work encompasses the largest chemical library of potential ESIPT compounds studied to date. We pinpoint the most promising combinations for building dual emitters, highlight unexpected combination effects and rationalise the impact of the different auxochromes.