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Keefer, Daniel and Vivie-Riedle, Regina de (2018): Pathways to New Applications for Quantum Control. In: Accounts of Chemical Research, Vol. 51, No. 9: pp. 2279-2286

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CONSPECTUS: In 1998, the first successful quantum control experiment with application to a molecular framework was conducted with a shaped laser pulse, optimizing the branching ratio between different organometallic reaction channels. This work induced a vast activity in quantum control during the next 10 years, and different optimization aims were achieved in the gas phase, liquid phase, and even in biologically relevant molecules like light-harvesting complexes. Accompanying and preceding this development were important advances in theoretical quantum control simulations. They predicted several control scenarios and explained how and why quantum control experiments work. After many successful proofs of concept in molecular science, the big challenge is to expand its huge conceptual potential of directly being able to steer nuclear and/or electronic motion to more applied implementations. In this Account, based on several recent advances, we give a personal evaluation of where the field of molecular quantum control is at the moment and especially where we think promising applications can be in the near future. One of these paths leads to synthetic chemistry. The synthesis of novel pharmaceutical compounds or natural products often involves many synthetic steps, each one devouring resources and lowering the product yield. Shaped laser pulses can possibly act as photonic reagents and shorten the synthetic route toward the desired product. Chemical synthesis usually takes place in solution, and by including explicit solvent molecules in our quantum control simulations, we were able to identify their highly inhomogeneous influence on chemical reactions and how this affects potential quantum control. More important, we demonstrated for a synthetically relevant example that these complications can be overcome in theory, and laser pulses can be optimized to initiate the desired carbon carbon bond formation. Putting this into context with the recently emerging concept of flow chemistry, which brings several practical advantages to the application of laser pulses, we want to encourage experimental groups to exploit this concept. Another path was opened by several additions to the commonly used laser pulse optimization algorithm (optimal control theory, OCT), several of which were developed in our group. The OCT algorithm as such is a purely mathematical optimization procedure, with no direct relation to experimental requirements. This means that usually the electric fields obtained out of OCT optimizations do not resemble laser pulses that can be achieved experimentally. However, the previously mentioned additions are aimed at closing the gap toward the experiment. In a recent quantum control study of our group, these algorithmic developments came to fruition. We were able to suggest a shaped laser pulse which can induce a long-living wave packet in the excited state of uracil. This might pave the way for novel experiments dedicated to investigating the formation of biological photodamage in DNA and RNA. The pulse we suggest is surprisingly simple because of the extended OCT algorithm and fulfills all criteria to be experimentally accessible.

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