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  1. Fluorescent proteins (FPs) are indispensable tools for noninvasive bioimaging and sensing. Measuring the free cellular calcium (Ca2+) concentrations in vivo with genetically encodable FPs can be a relatively direct measure of neuronal activity due to the complex signaling role of these ions. REX-GECO1 is a recently developed red-green emission and excitation ratiometric FP-based biosensor that achieves a high dynamic range due to differences in the chromophore response to light excitation with and without calcium ions. Using steady-state electronic measurements (UV/Visible absorption and emission), along with time-resolved spectroscopic techniques including femtosecond transient absorption (fs-TA) and femtosecond stimulated Raman spectroscopy (FSRS), the potential energy surfaces of these unique biosensors are unveiled with vivid details. The ground-state structural characterization of the Ca2+-free biosensor via FSRS reveals a more spacious protein pocket that allows the chromophore to efficiently twist and reach a dark state. In contrast, the more compressed cavity within the Ca2+-bound biosensor results in a more heterogeneous distribution of chromophore populations that results in multi-step excited state proton transfer (ESPT) pathways on the sub-140 fs, 600 fs, and 3 ps timescales. These results enable rational design strategies to enlarge the spectral separation between the protonated/deprotonated forms and the Stokes shift leading to a larger dynamic range and potentially higher fluorescence quantum yield, which should be broadly applicable to the calcium imaging and biosensor communities. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available February 1, 2024
  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 1, 2024
  3. The advancement of super-resolution imaging (SRI) relies on fluorescent proteins with novel photochromic properties. Using light, the reversibly switchable fluorescent proteins (RSFPs) can be converted between bright and dark states for many photocycles and their emergence has inspired the invention of advanced SRI techniques. The general photoswitching mechanism involves the chromophore cis-trans isomerization and proton transfer for negative and positive RSFPs and hydration–dehydration for decoupled RSFPs. However, a detailed understanding of these processes on ultrafast timescales (femtosecond to millisecond) is lacking, which fundamentally hinders the further development of RSFPs. In this review, we summarize the current progress of utilizing various ultrafast electronic and vibrational spectroscopies, and time-resolved crystallography in investigating the on/off photoswitching pathways of RSFPs. We show that significant insights have been gained for some well-studied proteins, but the real-time “action” details regarding the bidirectional cis-trans isomerization, proton transfer, and intermediate states remain unclear for most systems, and many other relevant proteins have not been studied yet. We expect this review to lay the foundation and inspire more ultrafast studies on existing and future engineered RSFPs. The gained mechanistic insights will accelerate the rational development of RSFPs with enhanced two-way switching rate and efficiency, better photostability, higher brightness, and redder emission colors. 
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  4. Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 1, 2024
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    Since green fluorescent protein (GFP) has revolutionized molecular and cellular biology for about three decades, there has been a keen interest in understanding, designing, and controlling the fluorescence properties of GFP chromophore ( i.e. , HBDI) derivatives from the protein matrix to solution. Amongst these cross-disciplinary efforts, the elucidation of excited-state dynamics of HBDI derivatives holds the key to correlating the light-induced processes and fluorescence quantum yield (FQY). Herein, we implement steady-state electronic spectroscopy, femtosecond transient absorption (fs-TA), femtosecond stimulated Raman spectroscopy (FSRS), and quantum calculations to study a series of mono- and dihalogenated HBDI derivatives (X = F, Cl, Br, 2F, 2Cl, and 2Br) in basic aqueous solution, gaining new insights into the photophysical reaction coordinates. In the excited state, the halogenated “floppy” chromophores exhibit an anti-heavy atom effect, reflected by strong correlations between FQY vs. Franck–Condon energy ( E FC ) or Stokes shift, and k nr vs. E FC , as well as a swift bifurcation into the I-ring (major) and P-ring (minor) twisting motions. In the ground state, both ring-twisting motions become more susceptible to sterics and exhibit spectral signatures from the halogen-dependent hot ground-state absorption band decay in TA data. We envision this type of systematic analysis of the halogenated HBDI derivatives to provide guiding principles for the site-specific modification of GFP chromophores, and expand design space for brighter and potentially photoswitchable organic chemical probes in aqueous solution with discernible spectral signatures throughout the photocycle. 
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  7. Abstract

    Aqueous electrolytes typically suffer from poor electrochemical stability; however, eutectic aqueous solutions—25 wt.% LiCl and 62 wt.% H3PO4—cooled to −78 °C exhibit a significantly widened stability window. Integrated experimental and simulation results reveal that, upon cooling, Li+ions become less hydrated and pair up with Cl, ice‐like water clusters form, and H⋅⋅⋅Clbonding strengthens. Surprisingly, this low‐temperature solvation structure does not strengthen water molecules’ O−H bond, bucking the conventional wisdom that increasing water's stability requires stiffening the O−H covalent bond. We propose a more general mechanism for water's low temperature inertness in the electrolyte: less favorable solvation of OHand H+, the byproducts of hydrogen and oxygen evolution reactions. To showcase this stability, we demonstrate an aqueous Li‐ion battery using LiMn2O4cathode and CuSe anode with a high energy density of 109 Wh/kg. These results highlight the potential of aqueous batteries for polar and extraterrestrial missions.

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