The absorption of one photon by a semiconductor material usually creates one electron–hole pair. However, this general rule breaks down in a few organic semiconductors, such as pentacene and tetracene, where one photon absorption may result in two electron–hole pairs. This process, where a singlet exciton transforms to two triplet excitons, can have quantum yields as high as 200%. Singlet fission may be useful to solar cell technologies to increase the power conversion efficiency beyond the so-called Shockley-Queisser limit. Through time-resolved two-photon photoemission (TR-2PPE) spectroscopy in crystalline pentacene and tetracene, our lab has recently provided the first spectroscopic signatures in singlet fission of a critical intermediate known as the multiexciton state (also called a correlated triplet pair). More importantly, we found that population of the multiexciton state rises at the same time as the singlet state on the ultrafast time scale upon photoexcitation. This observation does not fit with the traditional view of singlet fission involving the incoherent conversion of a singlet to a triplet pair. However, it provides an experimental foundation for a quantum coherent mechanism in which the electronic coupling creates a quantum superposition of the singlet and the multiexciton state immediately after optical excitation.
In this Account, we review key experimental findings from TR-2PPE experiments and present a theoretical analysis of the quantum coherent mechanism based on electronic structural and density matrix calculations for crystalline tetracene lattices. Using multistate density functional theory, we find that the direct electronic coupling between singlet and multiexciton states is too weak to explain the experimental observation. Instead, indirect coupling via charge transfer intermediate states is two orders of magnitude stronger, and dominates the dynamics for ultrafast multiexciton formation. Density matrix calculation for the crystalline tetracene lattice satisfactorily accounts for the experimental observations. It also reveals the critical roles of the charge transfer states and the high dephasing rates in ensuring the ultrafast formation of multiexciton states. In addition, we address the origins of microscopic relaxation and dephasing rates, and adopt these rates in a quantum master equation description. We show the need to take the theoretical effort one step further in the near future by combining high-level electronic structure calculations with accurate quantum relaxation dynamics for large systems.