ConspectusMolecular assemblies have been widely applied to functional soft materials in a variety of fields. Liquid crystal is one of the representative molecular soft materials in which weak intermolecular interactions induce its dynamic molecular behavior under external stimuli, such as electric and magnetic fields, photoirradiation, and thermal treatment. It is important to understand molecular behavior and motion in the liquid-crystalline (LC) states at the picosecond level for further functionalization of liquid crystals and molecular assembled materials. For investigation of assembled structures of the materials on the nanometer scale, X-ray diffraction (XRD) measurements have been a powerful tool. Despite the dynamic nature of the assembled materials, however, time resolution of XRD is limited to millisecond due to the response speed of the detector, which hampered real-time observation of the dynamics of the molecular assembly. For further understanding of the dynamic behavior of functional molecules and improvement of performance for their applications, the insights of faster dynamics on the micro-, nano-, pico-, and even femtosecond time scales are required. In this context, the interdisciplinary approaches of the emerging fields of materials chemistry and ultrafast science will open up new aspects of molecular science and technology. These approaches may lead to more effective design of new functional materials, which enables us to control molecular behaviors and motions.The development of ultrashort pulsed X-ray and electron sources has resulted in the visualization of the key structural dynamics on the femto- to picosecond time scale not only in isolated molecules but also in assembled molecules, such as in the LC, crystal, and amorphous phases. We focus on ultrafast phenomena in molecular assemblies induced by photoexcitation. Ultrafast time-resolved electron diffraction measurements are sensitive to the molecular periodicity under photoexcitation, and thus the methodologies directly provide the ultrafast photoinduced molecular dynamic arrangements.In this Account, we describe ultrafast structural dynamics of molecules in the LC phases observed by time-resolved electron diffraction measurements. Photoinduced conformational changes of LC molecules is shown as the example, which is the first observation of LC molecule using time-resolved electron diffraction. It is important to understand the correlation between the conformational or configurational changes induced in a photoirradiated single molecule and the oriented collective motions of molecular assemblies induced by intermolecular interaction. We also show observation of collective motions of azobenzene LC molecules. The collective motions are initiated from photoreaction in a single molecule and are subsequently amplified by the steric interaction with its neighboring molecules.One remaining challenge is to create the platform of materials and sample preparations for time-resolved electron diffraction experiments, which can only be achieved by the interdisciplinary fusion of the fields of materials chemistry and ultrafast science. Time-resolved electron diffraction is a powerful tool for structural investigation of molecular materials with a dynamic nature, whose adaptability goes beyond that of more complex assemblies of carbon nanomaterials. This methodology will extend the possibility to investigate motions of a variety of molecular self-assemblies on a larger scale, for example, to understand responses of biomolecular assemblies and intermolecular chemical reactions.
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