Ultra-Low Molecular Weight Photoswitchable Hydrogelators


Photoswitchable arylazopyrozoles 2 and 3 form hydrogels at a concentration of 1.2% (w/v). With a molecular weight of 258.11 g/mol, these are the lowest known molecular weight hydrogelators that respond reversibly to light. Single-crystal X-ray structures show anisotropic aggregation of 2 and 3 is driven by in-plane hydrogen bonding interactions and 𝝅 - 𝝅 stacking. Photoswitching of 2 and 3 from the E- to the Z-form by 365 nm light results in a macrocopic gel→sol transition; nearly an order of magnitude reduction in the measured elastic and loss moduli. Cryogenic transmission electron microscopy suggests that the 29±7 nm wide sheets in the E-2 gel state narrow to 13±2 nm upon photoswitching to the predominantly Z-2 solution state. In the case of 2, photoswitching is reversible through cycles of 365 nm and 520 nm excitation with little fatigue. The release of a Rhodamine B dye encapsulated in gels formed from 2 and 3 can be accelerated more than 20-fold upon photoswitching with 365 nm light, demonstrating these materials are suitable for light-controlled cargo release.

Version notes

This is version 4 (Updated main text + SI in response to reviewers suggestion. Also added new/additional data from new / repeated experiments: no 4 UV - revision/new data and no 10 - NMR - new data )


Supplementary material

1. NMR data
2. FTIR data
4. UV-vis Stability data
5. pKa values of compound 1-3
6. X-ray data
7. Hirshfeld analysis of X-ray data
8. Rheology data
9. Dye release data
3. UV vis data Revised
10. NMR spectra of light switchable hydrogels