Using the isotope effect to probe an aggregation induced emission mechanism: theoretical prediction and experimental validation†
Aggregation-induced emission (AIE) has become a hot topic for a variety of potential applications, but the understanding of its working mechanism is still under scrutiny. Herein, we proposed the use of the isotope effect (IE) to identify the AIE mechanism: under the restriction of an internal motion mechanism, the IE is pronouncedly different in excited-state decay rates when contrasting AIE luminogens (AIEgens) and non-AIEgens in theoretical calculations. For the complete deuteration of AIEgens, the IE of nonradiative decay rate in solution (<−10%) is much weaker than that (−65% to −95%) in aggregate, because the former stems from the overall results of competitive vibronic coupling and the severe mixing of low-frequency modes while the latter mainly comes from the vibronic coupling only. The experimental results confirm the isotopic “jump” behaviors in AIEgens well. However, non-AIEgens exhibit equivalent IEs (−40% to −90%) in both solution and solid phases. Further partial deuteration schemes for the 6-ring AIE analogues show positional dependence.