The ability to exploit carbonyl groups to measure electric fields in enzymes and other complex reactive environments using the vibrational Stark effect has inspired growing interest in how these fields can be measured, tuned, and ultimately designed. Previous studies have concentrated on the role of the solvent in tuning the fields exerted on the solute. Here, we explore instead the role of the solute electronic structure in modifying the local solvent organization and electric field exerted on the solute. By measuring the infrared absorption spectra of amide-containing molecules, as prototypical peptides, and contrasting them with non-amide carbonyls in a wide range of solvents, we show that these solutes experience notable differences in their frequency shifts in polar solvents. Using vibrational Stark spectroscopy and molecular dynamics simulations, we demonstrate that while some of these differences can be rationalized using the distinct intrinsic Stark tuning rates of the solutes, the larger frequency shifts for amides and dimethylurea primarily result from the larger solvent electric fields experienced by their carbonyl groups. These larger fields arise due to their stronger p-π conjugation, which results in larger C=O bond dipole moments that further induce substantial solvent organization. Using electronic structure calculations, we decompose the electric fields into contributions from solvent molecules that are in the first solvation shell and those from the bulk and show that both of these contributions are significant and become larger with enhanced conjugation in solutes. These results show that structural modifications of a solute can be used to tune both the solvent organization and electrostatic environment, indicating the importance of a solute-centric paradigm in modulating and designing the electrostatic environment in condensed-phase chemical processes.
Supplementary Information for "Solvent Organization and Electrostatics Tuned by Electronic Structure: Amide vs Non-Amide Carbonyls"