High resolution electron energy loss spectroscopy has been employed to analyze the adsorption geometry and the photoisomerization ability of the molecular switch carboxy-benzylideneaniline (CBA) adsorbed on Au(111). CBA on Au(111) adopts a planar (trans) configuration in the first monolayer (ML) as well as for higher coverages (up to 6 ML), in contrast to the strongly nonplanar geometry of the molecule in solution. Illumination with UV light of CBA in direct contact with the Au(111) surface (1ML) caused no changes in the vibrational structure, whereas at higher coverages (>1ML) pronounced modifications of vibrational features were observed, which we assign to a transcis isomerization. Thermal activation induced the back reaction to trans-CBA. We propose that the photoisomerization is driven by a direct (intramolecular) electronic excitation of the adsorbed CBA molecules in the second ML (and above) analogous to CBA in the liquid phase.

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