Category Archives: Inorganic Chemistry

Calculation of Intermolecular Interactions for Sensors with Biological Applications

Two new papers on the development of chemosensors for different applications were recently published and we had the opportunity to participate in both with the calculation of electronic interactions.

A chemosensor requires to have a measurable response and calculating either that response from first principles based on the electronic structure, or calculating another physicochemical property related to the response are useful strategies in their molecular design. Additionally, electronic structure calculations helps us unveil the molecular mechanisms underlying their response and efficiency, as well as providing a starting point for their continuous improvement.

In the first paper, CdTe Quantum Dots (QD’s) are used to visualize in real time cell-membrane damages through a Gd Schiff base sensitizer (GdQDs). This probe interacts preferentially with a specific sequence motif of NHE-RF2 scaffold protein which is exposed during cell damage. This interactions yields intensely fluorescent droplets which can be visualized in real time with standard instrumentation. Calculations at the level of theory M06-2X/LANL2DZ plus an external double zeta quality basis set on Gd, were employed to characterize the electronic structure of the Gd³⁺ complex, the Quantum Dot and their mutual interactions. The first challenge was to come up with the right multiplicity for Gd³⁺ (an f⁷ ion) for which we had no experimental evidence of their magnetic properties. From searching the literature and talking to my good friend, inorganic chemist Dr. Vojtech Jancik it was more or less clear the multiplicity had to be an octuplet (all seven electrons unpaired).

As can be seen in figure 1a the Gd-N interactions are mostly electrostatic in nature, a fact that is also reflected in the Wiberg bond indexes calculated as 0.16, 0.17 and 0.21 (a single bond would yield a WBI value closer to 1.0).

PM6 optimizations were employed in optimizing the GdQD as a whole (figure 1f) and the MM-UFF to characterize their union to a peptide sequence (figure 2) from which we observed somewhat unsurprisingly that Gd³⁺interacts preferently with the electron rich residues.

This research was published in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces. Thanks to Prof. Vojtech Adam from the Mendel University in Brno, Czech Republic for inviting me to collaborate with their interdisciplinary team.

The second sensor I want to write about today is a more closer to home collaboration with Dr. Alejandro Dorazco who developed a fluorescent porphyrin system that becomes chiefly quenched in the presence of Iodide but not with any other halide. This allows for a fast detection of iodide anions, related to some gland diseases, in aqueous samples such as urine. This probe was also granted a patent which technically lists yours-truly as an inventor, cool!

The calculated interaction energy was huge between I⁻ and the porphyrine, which supports the idea of a ionic interaction through which charge transfer interactions quenches the fluorescence of the probe. Figure 3 above shows how the HOMO largely resides on the iodide whereas the LUMO is located on the pi electron system of the porphyrine.

This research was published in Sensors and Actuators B – Chemical.


Redox Allosteric Control – New communication in JACS

The Weak Link Approach (WLA) is a successful strategy for allosterically controlling the formation of cavities¹ and the access to them² through the action of reversible hemilabile-bond formation around an organometallic center. Thus far, the WLA has been used to mimic biological cavities whose access is controlled chemically as in the scheme shown below which belongs to a previous WLA work published in 2014, my first time involved in the calculation of bond energies for hemilabile groups.

Screenshot from 2018-10-29 22:57:15

Mendez-Arroyo et al. JACS (2014) 136, 10340-10348

Chiefly developed by the Chad Mirkin group at Northwestern, the WLA has now reached a new milestone in which the allosteric control is further coupled to a redox equilibrium which alters the strength of the hemilabile bonds. These findings are reported in JACS as a communication (DOI: 10.1021/jacs.8b09321). Previous efforts were unsuccessful due to the instability of the oxidized species, which makes regulation challenging. A ferrocenyl (Fc) group was attached to the hemilabile ligand to provide the redox center which can further assist and control the ring opening via an increment in the electrostatic repulsion of the two metallic centers. Thus, the weak-link is displaced by exogenous ligands only after the Fc group was oxidized.


Bond strengths for the hemilabile bonds were calculated at the ω-B97XD/lanl2dz level of theory upon optimized structures. Relative energies were calculated through the thermochemistry analysis (freq=noraman) made by Gaussian09 and the bond strengths were calculated with the NBODel procedure included in NBO3.1. In the open configurations we found that upon oxidation of Fc the exogenous ligand bond to Pt(II) strengthens by a few kcal/mol (2 – 10), however the Fe(III)-P distance increases and that can be observed via ³¹P NMR spectroscopy.

For the non-oxidized complexes, the HOMO’s are largely composed of the ferrocene highest energy orbitals, which is susceptible of being oxidized, whereas the LUMO’s are located throughout the organometallic fragment. When Ferrocene is oxidized to Ferrocenium, the situation is reversed and now HOMO’s are found spread over the organometallic fragment and the LUMO’s over ferrocenium; all of which is coherent with the idea of Fc now being able to be reduced. Plots for the HOMO LUMO orbitals for compound (6) in the Reduced (Fe2) and Oxidized (Fe3) states are shown (alpha and beta density are shown separately in the latter case).


Thanks to Prof. Chad Mirkin, Dr. Andrea d’Aquino, and Edmund Cheng for letting me be a part of this project.

[1] D’Aquino, A. I., Cheng, H. F., Barroso-Flores, J., Kean, Z. S., Mendez-Arroyo, J., McGuirk, C. M., & Mirkin, C. A. (2018). An Allosterically Regulated, Four-State Macrocycle. Inorganic Chemistry, 57(7), 3568–3578.
[2] Mendez-Arroyo, J., Barroso-Flores, J., Lifschitz, A. M., Sarjeant, A. a., Stern, C. L., & Mirkin, C. a. (2014). A multi-state, allosterically-regulated molecular receptor with switchable selectivity. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 136(29), 10340–10348.

A new paper on the Weak Link Approach

Chemically actuating a molecule is a very cool thing to do and the Weak Link Approach (WLA) allows us to do precisely that through the reversible coordination of one or various organometallic centers to a longer ligand that opens or closes a macrocyclic cavity. All this leads to an allosteric effect so important in biological instances available in inorganic molecules. Once again, the Mirkin group at Nortwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, has given me the opportunity to contribute with the calculations to the energetic properties of these actuators as well as their electronic properties for their use as molecular scavengers or selective capsules for various purposes such as drug delivery agents.

As in the previous WLA work (full paper), the NBODel procedure was used at the B97D/LANL2DZ level of theory, only this time the macrocycle consisted of two organometallic centers and for the first time the asymmetric opening of the cavity was achieved, as observed by NMR. With the given fragments, all possibilities shown in scheme 1 were obtained. The calculated bond energies for the Pt – S bonds are around 60 – 70 kcal/mol whereas for the Pt – Cl bonds the values are closer to 90 kcal/mol. This allows for a selective opening of the cavity which can then be closed by removing the chlorine atoms with the help of silver salts.


For the case of complex mixture 4a, 4b, and 4c, the thermochemistry calculations show they are all basically isoenergetic with differences in the thousandths of kcal/mol. The possibilities for the groups in the weakly bonded ligands are enormous; currently, there is work being done about substituting those phenyl rings for calix[4]arenes in order to have a macrucyclic capsule made by macrocylic capusules.

Thanks to Andrea D’Aquino for taking me into her project, for all the stimulating discussions and her great ideas for expanding WLA into new avenues; I’m sure she’ll succeed in surprising us with more possibilities for these allosteric macrocycles.

The full paper is published in Inorganic Chemistry from the ACS (DOI: 10.1021/acs.inorgchem.7b02745). Thanks for reading and -if you made it this far into the post- happy new year!

Collaborations in Inorganic Chemistry

I began my path in computational chemistry while I still was an undergraduate student, working on my thesis under professor Cea at unam, synthesizing main group complexes with sulfur containing ligands. Quite a mouthful, I know. Therefore my first calculations dealt with obtaining Bond indexed for bidentate ligands bonded to tin, antimony and even arsenic; yes! I worked with arsenic once! Happily, I keep a tight bond (pun intended) with inorganic chemists and the recent two papers published with the group of Prof. Mónica Moya are proof of that.

In the first paper, cyclic metallaborates were formed with Ga and Al but when a cycle of a given size formed with one it didn’t with the other (fig 1), so I calculated the relative energies of both analogues while compensating for the change in the number of electrons with the following equation:

Fig 1


Under the same conditions 6-membered rings were formed  with Ga but not with Al and 8-membered rings were obtained for Al but not for Ga. Differences in their covalent radii alone couldn’t account for this fact.

ΔE = E(MnBxOy) – nEM + nEM’ – E(M’nBxOy)                     Eq 1

A seamless substitution would imply ΔE = 0 when changing from M to M’


Hipothetical compounds optimized at the B3LYP/6-31G(d,p) level of theory

The calculated ΔE were: ΔE(3/3′) = -81.38 kcal/mol; ΔE(4/4′) = 40.61 kcal/mol; ΔE(5/5′) = 70.98 kcal/mol

In all, the increased stability and higher covalent character of the Ga-O-Ga unit compared to that of the Al analogue favors the formation of different sized rings.

Additionally, a free energy change analysis was performed to assess the relative stability between compounds. Changes in free energy can be obtained easily from the thermochemistry section in the FREQ calculation from Gaussian.

This paper is published in Inorganic Chemistry under the following citation: Erandi Bernabé-Pablo, Vojtech Jancik, Diego Martínez-Otero, Joaquín Barroso-Flores, and Mónica Moya-Cabrera* “Molecular Group 13 Metallaborates Derived from M−O−M Cleavage Promoted by BH3” Inorg. Chem. 2017, 56, 7890−7899

The second paper deals with heavier atoms and the bonds the formed around Yttrium complexes with triazoles, for which we calculated a more detailed distribution of the electronic density and concluded that the coordination of Cp to Y involves a high component of ionic character.

This paper is published in Ana Cristina García-Álvarez, Erandi Bernabé-Pablo, Joaquín Barroso-Flores, Vojtech Jancik, Diego Martínez-Otero, T. Jesús Morales-Juárez, Mónica Moya-Cabrera* “Multinuclear rare-earth metal complexes supported by chalcogen-based 1,2,3-triazole” Polyhedron 135 (2017) 10-16

We keep working on other projects and I hope we keep on doing so for the foreseeable future because those main group metals have been in my blood all this century. Thanks and a big shoutout to Dr. Monica Moya for keeping me in her highly productive and competitive team of researchers; here is to many more years of joint work.

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