Polycyclic hydrocarbons (PHs) with a singlet biradical ground state have recently attracted extensive interest in physical organic chemistry and materials science. Replacing the carbon radical center in the open-shell PHs with a more electronegative nitrogen atom is expected to result in the more stable aminyl radical. In this work, two kinetically blocked stable/persistent derivatives (1 and 2) of indolo[2,3-b]carbazole, an isoelectronic structure of the known indeno[2,1-b]fluorene, were synthesized and showed different ground states. Based on variable-temperature NMR/ESR measurements and density functional theory calculations, it was found that the indolo[2,3-b]carbazole derivative 1 is a persistent singlet biradical in the ground state with a moderate biradical character (y0 = 0.269) and a small singlet-triplet energy gap (ΔES-T ≅ -1.78 kcal mol-1), while the more extended dibenzo-indolo[2,3-b]carbazole 2 exhibits a quinoidal closed-shell ground state. The difference can be explained by considering the number of aromatic sextet rings gained from the closed-shell to the open-shell biradical resonance form, that is to say, two for compound 1 and one for compound 2, which determines their different biradical characters. The optical and electronic properties of 2 and the corresponding aromatic precursors were investigated by one-photon absorption, transient absorption and two-photon absorption (TPA) spectroscopies and electrochemistry. Amphoteric redox behaviour, a short excited lifetime and a moderate TPA cross section were observed for 2, which can be correlated to its antiaromaticity and small biradical character. Compound 2 showed high reactivity to protic solvents due to its extremely low-lying LUMO energy level. Unusual oxidative dimerization was also observed for the unblocked dihydro-indolo[2,3-b]carbazole precursors 6 and 11. Our studies shed light on the rational design of persistent aminyl biradicals with tunable properties in the future.
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