The ability to design and confer control over the kinetics of theprocesses involved in the mechanisms of artificial molecular machines is at the heart of the challenge to create ones that can carry out useful work on their environment, just as Nature is wont to do. As one of the more promising forerunners of prototypical artificial molecular machines, chemists have developed bistable redox-active donor-acceptor mechanically interlocked molecules (MIMs) over the past couple of decades. These bistable MIMs generally come in the form of rotaxanes, molecular compounds that constitute a ring mechanically interlocked around a dumbbell-shaped component, or catenanes, which are composed of two mechanically interlocked rings. As a result of their interlocked nature, bistable MIMs possess the inherent propensity to express controllable intramolecular, large-amplitude, and reversible motions in response to redox stimuli. In this Account, we rationalize the kinetic behavior in the ground state for a large assortment of these types of bistable MIMs, including both rotaxanes and catenanes. These structures have proven useful in a variety of applications ranging from drug delivery to molecular electronic devices.These bistable donor-acceptor MIMs can switch between two different isomeric states. The favored isomer, known as the ground-state co-conformation (GSCC) is in equilibrium with the less favored metastable state co-conformation (MSCC). The forward (kf) and backward (kb) rate constants associated with this ground-state equilibrium are intimately connected to each other through the ground-state distribution constant, KGS. Knowing the rate constants that govern the kinetics and bring about the equilibration between the MSCC and GSCC, allows researchers to understand the operation of these bistable MIMs in a device setting and apply them toward the construction of artificial molecular machines.The three biggest influences on the ground-state rate constants arise from (i) ground-state effects, the energy required to breakup the noncovalent bonding interactions that stabilize either the GSCC or MSCC, (ii) spacer effects, where the structures overcome additional barriers, either steric or electrostatic or both, en route from one co-conformation to the other, and (iii) the physical environment of the bistable MIMs. By managing all three of these effects, chemists can vary these rate constants over many orders of magnitude. We also discuss progress toward achieving mechanostereoselective motion, a key principle in the design and realization of artificial molecular machines capable of doing work at the molecular level, by the strategic implementation of free energy barriers to intramolecular motion.
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