With a combination of transient pump-probe IR spectroscopy and ab initio molecular dynamics, the controversial
pico- and nanosecond steps of the o-nitrobenzaldehyde
(oNBA) photoreaction have been investigated in aqueous solution. In this way, the measured reaction kinetics
have been complemented with an atomistic picture of the
reactive events as obtained with unbiased simulations in
explicit solvent. Our results allow for a detailed description of the oNBA proton photorelease, a process of fundamental importance and relevant to the use of oNBA as a proton cage in many experiments. In a first step, a stable ketene intermediate is formed on a subpicosecond time scale. This intermediate reacts in a solvent assisted way with an OH transfer to produce nitrosobenzoic acid with a characteristic time of 7 ps. Finally, in permitting pH conditions, this product molecule dissociates a carboxyl proton with a 21 ns time constant. The particular combination of theory and experiment employed in this work appears to be sufficiently general and powerful to find widespread application in the study of ultrafast reactive systems.