Research ArticleChemistry

Excited state intramolecular proton transfer in hydroxyanthraquinones: Toward predicting fading of organic red colorants in art

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Science Advances  06 Sep 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 9, eaaw5227
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw5227


Compositionally similar organic red colorants in the anthraquinone family, whose photodegradation can cause irreversible color and stability changes, have long been used in works of art. Different organic reds, and their multiple chromophores, suffer degradation disparately. Understanding the details of these molecules’ degradation therefore provides a window into their behavior in works of art and may assist the development of improved conservation methods. According to one proposed model of photodegradation dynamics, intramolecular proton transfer provides a kinetically favored decay pathway in some photoexcited chromophores, preventing degradation-promoting electron transfer (ET). To further test this model, we measured excited state lifetimes of substituted gas-phase anthraquinones using high-level theory to explain the experimental results. The data show a general structural trend: Anthraquinones with 1,4-OH substitution are long-lived and prone to damaging ET, while excited state intramolecular proton transfers promote efficient quenching for hydroxyanthraquinones that lack this motif.

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