Publication date: Feb 24, 2022
A highly appealing strategy to modulate a catalyst's activity and/or selectivity in a dynamic and non-invasive way is to incorporate a photoresponsive unit into a catalytically competent molecule. However, the description of the photoinduced conformational or structural changes that alter the catalyst's intrinsic reactivity is often reduced to a handful of intuitive static representations, which can struggle to capture the complexity of flexible organocatalysts. Here, we show how a comprehensive exploration of the free energy landscape of N-alkylated azobenzene-tethered piperidine catalysts is essential to unravel the conformational characteristics of each configurational state and explain the experimentally observed reactivity trends. Mapping the catalysts’ conformational space highlights the existence of false ON or OFF states that lower their switching ability. Our findings expose the challenges associated with the realisation of reversible steric shielding for the photocontrol of Brønsted basicity of piperidine photoswitchable organocatalysts.
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