Azobenzenes have many faces. They are well-known as dyes, but most of all, azobenzenes are versatile photoswitchable molecules with powerful photochemical properties. Azobenzene photochemistry has been extensively studied for decades, but only relatively recently research has taken a steer towards applications, ranging from photonics and robotics to photobiology. In this perspective, after an overview of the recent trends in the molecular design of azobenzenes, we highlight three research areas where the azobenzene photoswitches may bring about promising technological innovations: chemical sensing, organic transistors, and cell signaling. Ingenious molecular designs have enabled versatile control of azobenzene photochemical properties, which has in turn facilitated the development of chemical sensors and photoswitchable organic transistors. Finally, the power of azobenzenes in biology is exemplified by vision restoration and photactivation of neural signaling. Although the selected examples reveal only some of the faces of azobenzenes, we expect the fields presented to develop rapidly in the near future, and that azobenzenes will play a central role in this development.
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