Small organic molecules, capable of undergoing efficient and reversible photochemical reactions to switch them between (at least) two (meta)stable isomers associated with markedly different properties, continue to impact the materials world. Such photoswitches are being implemented in a variety of materials for applications ranging from optical devices to “smart” polymers. All approaches exploit the photoswitching molecular entities as gates, which translate an incoming light stimulus to trigger macroscopic property changes of the materials. In this progress report, the most promising recent examples in this field are highlighted and put in perspective. Moving from supramolecular systems in solution to surfaces and finally to bulk materials, important design concepts are discussed, emphasizing both the challenges as well as the great promise of such truly advanced materials.
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