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The transient electronic and molecular structure arising from photoinduced charge transfer in transition metal complexes is studied by X-ray powder diffraction with a 100 fs temporal and atomic spatial resolution. Crystals containing a dense array of Fe(II)-tris(bipyridine) ([Fe(bpy)3]2 +) complexes and their counterions display pronounced changes of electron density that occur within the first 100 fs after two-photon excitation of a small fraction of the [Fe(bpy)3]2 + complexes. Transient electron density maps derived from the diffraction data reveal a transfer of electronic charge from the Fe atoms and—so far unknown—from the counterions to the bipyridine units. Such charge transfer (CT) is connected with changes of the inter-ionic and the Fe-bipyridine distances. An analysis of the electron density maps demonstrates the many-body character of charge transfer which affects approximately 30 complexes around a directly photoexcited one. The many-body behavior is governed by the long-range Coulomb forces in the ionic crystals and described by the concept of electronic polarons.


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