Femtosecond x-ray spectroscopy of an electrocyclic ring-opening reaction
The ultrafast light-activated electrocyclic ring-opening reaction of 1,3-cyclohexadiene is a fundamental prototype of photochemical pericyclic reactions. Generally, these reactions are thought to proceed through an intermediate excited-state minimum (the so-called pericyclic minimum), which leads to isomerization via nonadiabatic relaxation to the ground state of the photoproduct. Here, we used femtosecond (fs) soft x-ray spectroscopy near the carbon K-edge (~284 electron volts) on a tabletop apparatus to directly reveal the valence electronic structure of this transient intermediate state. The core-to-valence spectroscopic signature of the pericyclic minimum observed in the experiment was characterized, in combination with time-dependent density functional theory calculations, to reveal overlap and mixing of the frontier valence orbital energy levels. We show that this transient valence electronic structure arises within 60 ± 20 fs after ultraviolet photoexcitation and decays with a time constant of 110 ± 60 fs.