Bioluminescence is a phenomenon that has fascinated mankind for centuries. Today the phenomenon and its sibling, chemiluminescence, have impacted society with a number of useful applications in fields like analytical chemistry and medicine, just to mention two. In this review, a molecular-orbital perspective is adopted to explain the chemistry behind chemiexcitation in both chemi- and bioluminescence. First, the uncatalyzed thermal dissociation of 1,2-dioxetane is presented and analyzed to explain, for example, the preference for triplet excited product states and increased yield with larger nonreactive substituents. The catalyzed fragmentation reaction and related details are then exemplified with substituted 1,2-dioxetanone species. In particular, the preference for singlet excited product states in that case is explained. The review also examines the diversity of specific solutions both in Nature and in artificial systems and the difficulties in identifying the emitting species and unraveling the color modulation process. The related subject of excited-state chemistry without light absorption is finally discussed. The content of this review should be an inspiration to human design of new molecular systems expressing unique light-emitting properties. An appendix describing the state-of-the-art experimental and theoretical methods used to study the phenomena serves as a complement.
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