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  1. Abstract

    Eumelanin is a brown-black biological pigment with sunscreen and radical scavenging functions important to numerous organisms. Eumelanin is also a promising redox-active material for energy conversion and storage, but the chemical structures present in this heterogeneous pigment remain unknown, limiting understanding of the properties of its light-responsive subunits. Here, we introduce an ultrafast vibrational fingerprinting approach for probing the structure and interactions of chromophores in heterogeneous materials like eumelanin. Specifically, transient vibrational spectra in the double-bond stretching region are recorded for subsets of electronic chromophores photoselected by an ultrafast excitation pulse tuned through the UV-visible spectrum. All subsets show a common vibrational fingerprint, indicating that the diverse electronic absorbers in eumelanin, regardless of transition energy, contain the same distribution of IR-active functional groups. Aggregation of chromophores diverse in oxidation state is the key structural property underlying the universal, ultrafast deactivation behavior of eumelanin in response to photoexcitation with any wavelength.