Molecular conformational reorganization following photon absorption is a fundamental process driving reactions such as the cis–trans isomerization at the heart of the primary step of vision and can be exploited for switching in artificial systems using photochromics. In general, conformational change occurs on a timescale defined by the energy of the main vibrational mode and the rate of energy dissipation. Typically, for a conformational change such as a twist around the backbone of a conjugated molecule, this occurs on the tens of picoseconds timescale. However, here we demonstrate experimentally that in certain circumstances the molecule, in this case an oligofluorene, can change conformation over two orders of magnitude faster (that is sub-100 fs) in a manner analogous to inertial solvent reorganization demonstrated in the 1990s. Theoretical simulations demonstrate that non-adiabatic transitions during internal conversion can efficiently convert electronic potential energy into torsional kinetic energy, providing the ‘kick’ that prompts sub-100 fs torsional reorganization.
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