Singlet fission (SF) is a spin-allowed process in which an excited singlet state spontaneously splits into a pair of triplet excitons. This relaxation pathway is of interest as a mechanism for increasing the efficiency of photovoltaic solar cells, since ionization of the triplets could produce two charge carriers per absorbed photon. In this Account, we summarize our recent work on trying to understand how SF occurs using both covalent and noncovalent assemblies of tetracene. We first give a brief overview of the SF process and discuss why tetracene, where the singlet and triplet pair energies are nearly degenerate, is a particularly useful molecule for studying this process. Then we describe our experiments, beginning with the study of phenylene-linked tetracene dimers as covalent analogs for the crystal form, where SF is known to be very efficient. We found that only 2–3% of the initially excited singlets underwent SF in these dimers. These results motivated us to study crystalline tetracene in more detail. Transient absorption and photoluminescence experiments on polycrystalline thin films provided evidence for a delocalized singlet exciton that decays with a complicated temperature-dependence, but we were unable to unambiguously identify the signature of the triplet pair formed by SF. Then, using ultrathin single crystals, we observed quantum beats in the delayed fluorescence arising from recombination of spin-coherent triplet pairs. Analyzing these quantum beats revealed that SF proceeds through a direct one-step process occurring within 200 ps at room temperature. The product of this reaction is a pair of unperturbed triplets that have negligible interaction with each other.
Looking at the overall SF process in tetracene, remaining issues that need to be clarified include the role of exciton diffusion, the temperature dependence of the SF rate, and how to use insights gained from the solid-state studies to generate design principles for high-efficiency covalent systems. Our experiments provide a good illustration of why the polyacenes, and tetracene in particular, play an important role as systems for the study of SF.