Luminescence of biomolecules in the visible range of the spectrum has been experimentally observed upon aggregation, contrary to their monomeric state. However, the physical basis for this phenomenon is still elusive. Here, we systematically examine all coded amino acids to provide non-biased empirical insights. Several amino acids, including non-aromatic, show intense visible luminescence. Lysine crystals display the highest signal, whereas the very chemically similar non-coded ornithine does not, implying a role for molecular packing rather than the chemical characteristics. Furthermore, cysteine shows luminescence that is indeed crystal packing dependent as repeated rearrangements between two crystal structures result in a reversible on-off optical transition. In addition, ultrafast lifetime decay is experimentally validated, corroborating a recently raised hypothesis regarding the governing role of nπ∗ states in the emission formation. Collectively, our study supports that electronic interactions between non-fluorescent, non-absorbing molecules at the monomeric state may result in reversible optically active states by the formation of supramolecular fluorophores.
- supramolecular chemistry