Solvent-induced infrared frequency shifts in aromatic nitriles are quantitatively described by the vibrational stark effect

Nicholas M. Levinson, Stephen D. Fried, Steven G. Boxer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Scopus citations


The physical properties of solvents strongly affect the spectra of dissolved solutes, and this phenomenon can be exploited to gain insight into the solvent-solute interaction. The large solvatochromic shifts observed for many dye molecules in polar solvents are due to variations in the solvent reaction field, and these shifts are widely used to estimate the change in the dye's dipole moment upon photoexcitation, which is typically on the order of ∼1-10 D. In contrast, the change in dipole moment for vibrational transitions is approximately 2 orders of magnitude smaller. Nonetheless, vibrational chromophores display significant solvatochromism, and the relative contributions of specific chemical interactions and electrostatic interactions are debated, complicating the interpretation of vibrational frequency shifts in complex systems such as proteins. Here we present a series of substituted benzonitriles that display widely varying degrees of vibrational solvatochromism. In most cases, this variation can be quantitatively described by the experimentally determined Stark tuning rate, coupled with a simple Onsager-like model of solvation, reinforcing the view that vibrational frequency shifts are largely caused by electrostatic interactions. In addition, we discuss specific cases where continuum solvation models fail to predict solvatochromic shifts, revealing the necessity for more advanced theoretical models that capture local aspects of solute-solvent interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10470-10476
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry B
Issue number35
StatePublished - Sep 6 2012


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