The effect of the solvent on the reaction mechanism is small. The lifetime of the S1 state is marginally lowered; the effect does not depend on the polarity, but rather on the viscosity of the solvent. The quantum yield is solvent dependent; the simulations in water give smaller quantum yield than those obtained in n-hexane and in gas phase.
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Marek Pederzoli, Jiří Pittner, Mario Barbatti, Hans Lischka, "Cis-trans photoisomerization of azobenzene upon excitation to the S1 state: An ab initio molecular dynamics and QM/MM study," Proc. SPIE 8463, Nanoengineering: Fabrication, Properties, Optics, and Devices IX, 846318 (15 October 2012);