The photolysis of o-nitrophenol (o-NP), a typical push-pull molecule, is of current interest in atmospheric chemistry as a possible source of nitrous acid (HONO). To characterize the largely unknown photolysis mechanism, the dynamics of the lowest lying excited singlet state (S<inf>1</inf>) of o-NP was investigated by means of femtosecond transient absorption spectroscopy in solution, time-resolved photoelectron spectroscopy (TRPES) in the gas phase and quantum chemical calculations. Evidence of the unstable aci-nitro isomer is provided both in the liquid and in the gas phase. Our results indicate that the S<inf>1</inf> state displays strong charge transfer character, which triggers excited state proton transfer from the OH to the NO<inf>2</inf> group as evidenced by a temporal shift of 20 fs of the onset of the photoelectron spectrum. The proton transfer itself is found to be coupled to an out-of-plane rotation of the newly formed HONO group, finally leading to a conical intersection between S<inf>1</inf> and the ground state S<inf>0</inf>. In solution, return to S<inf>0</inf> within 0.2-0.3 ps was monitored by stimulated emission. As a competitive relaxation channel, ultrafast intersystem crossing to the upper triplet manifold on a subpicosecond time scale occurs both in solution and in the gas phase. Due to the ultrafast singlet dynamics, we conclude that the much discussed HONO split-off is likely to take place in the triplet manifold.
The Journal of Physical Chemistry A119, no. 35 (12 August 2015): 9225–9235.