Uncovering Single-Molecule Photophysical Heterogeneity of Bright, Thermally Activated Delayed Fluorescence Emitters Dispersed in Glassy Hosts

Recently developed all-organic emitters used in display applications achieve high brightness by harvesting triplet populations via thermally activated delayed fluorescence. The photophysical properties of these emitters therefore involve new inherent complexities and are strongly affected by interactions with their host material in the solid state. Ensemble measurements occlude the molecular details of how host–guest interactions determine fundamental properties such as the essential balance of singlet oscillator strength and triplet harvesting. Therefore, using time-resolved fluorescence spectroscopy, we interrogate these emitters at the single-molecule level and compare their properties in two distinct glassy polymer hosts. We find that nonbonding interactions with aromatic moieties in the host appear to mediate the molecular configurations of the emitters, but also promote nonradiative quenching pathways. We also find substantial heterogeneity in the time-resolved photoluminescence of these emitters, which is dominated by static disorder in the polymer. Finally, since singlet–triplet cycling underpins the mechanism for increased brightness, we present the first room-temperature measurement of singlet–triplet equilibration dynamics in this family of emitters. Our observations present a molecular-scale interrogation of host–guest interactions in a disordered film, with implications for highly efficient organic light-emitting devices. Combining a single-molecule experimental technique with an emitter that is sensitive to triplet dynamics, yet read out via fluorescence, should also provide a complementary approach to performing fundamental studies of glassy materials over a large dynamic range of time scales.