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This work demonstrates that the recognition of cations by molecular switches can give rise to large contrasts of the second-order nonlinear optical (NLO) properties, which can therefore be used as a powerful and multi-usage detection tool. The proof of concept is given by evidencing, by means of ab initio calculations, the ability of spiropyran/merocyanine systems to selectively detect alkali, alkaline earth, and transition-metal cations.
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