Supramolecular design principles for efficient photoresponsive polymer–azobenzene complexes
Noncovalent binding of azobenzenes to polymers allows harnessing light-induced molecular-level motions (photoisomerization) for inducing macroscopic effects, including photocontrol over molecular alignment and self-assembly of block copolymer nanostructures, and photoinduced surface patterning of polymeric thin films. In the last 10 years, a growing body of literature has proven the utility of supramolecular materials design for establishing structure–property–function guidelines for photoresponsive azobenzene-based polymeric materials. In general, the bond type and strength, engineered by the choice of the polymer and the azobenzene, influence the photophysical properties and the optical response of the material system. Herein, we review this progress, and critically assess the advantages and disadvantages of the three most commonly used supramolecular design strategies: hydrogen, halogen and ionic bonding. The ease and versatility of the design of these photoresponsive materials makes a compelling case for a paradigm shift from covalently-functionalized side-chain polymers to supramolecular polymer–azobenzene complexes.