Category Archives: Reaction Mechanisms

Submerged Reaction Energy Barriers

The energy of your calculated transition state (TS) is lower than that of the reagents. That’s gotta be an error right? Well, maybe not.

Typically, in classical transition state theory, we associate the reaction barrier to the energy difference between the reaction complex and the TS, in other words, we associate the reaction barrier to the relative energy of the TS. However, this isn’t always the case, since the TS isn’t always located at the barrier, which simply may not exist or may be a submerged one, i.e. the TS relative energy is negative with respect to the reaction complex. This leads to negative activation energies, but one must bear in mind that the activation energy is not equal to the relative energy of the TS but rather to the slope of the Arrhenius plot, which in turn comes from the Arrhenius equation given below.

k = Aexp(Ea/RT) 
or in logarithmic form
Lnk = LnA + (Ea/RT)

The Arrhenius plot is then the plot of Lnk vs T-1, with slope Ea

Caution is advised since the apparent presence of such a barrier may be due to a computational artifact rather than to the real kinetics taking place, that’s why an IRC calculation must follow a TS optimization in order to verify the truthfulness of the TS; keep in mind that in classical transition state theory, we’re ‘slicing‘ a multidimensional map along a carefully chosen reaction coordinate but this choice might not entirely be the right one, or even an existing one for that matter. I also recommend to change the level of theory, reconsider the reaction complex structure (because a hidden intermediate or complex may be lurking between reactants and TS, see figure 1) and fully verifying the thermochemistry of all components involved before asserting that any given reaction under study has one of these atypical barriers.

Aurides Chemistry – New Paper in Organometallics

Compound 2 represents the first structural example of a 12 e− auride complex, with a pseudohalide/hydride nature in bonding. According to our NBO calculations, this electron deficient gold center is stabilized by weak intramolecular interactions between Au p orbitals and σC−C and σC−H bonds of adjacent aromatic rings together with a Ga−Au−Ga 3 centers−2 electrons bond (I like the term ‘banana bond‘, don’t you?).

Fig. 1 Crystal structure for Compound 2. Au in the center is effectively an auride.

I was invited to participate in this wonderful venture by my good friend and colleague Dr. José Oscar Carlos Jiménez-Halla, from the University of Guanajuato, Mexico, with whom we’re now working with Prof. Rong Shang at the Hiroshima University. Prof. Shang has synthesized this portentous Auride complex and over the last year, Leonardo “Leo” Lugo has worked with Oscar and I in calculating their electronic structure and bonding properties.

Gold catalysis is an active area of research but low valent Au compounds are electron deficient and therefore highly reactive and elusive; that’s why researchers prefer to synthesize these compounds in situ, to harness their catalytic properties before they’re lost. Power’s digalladeltacyclane was used as a ligand framework to bind to a Au(I) center, which became reduced after the addition and breaking of the Ga−Ga bond while the opposite face of the metallic center became blocked by the bulky aromatic groups on the main ligand. NBO calculations at the M05-2X/[LANL2TZ(f),6-311G(d,p)] and QTAIM BCP analysis show the main features of Au bonding in 2, noteworthy features are the 3c−2e bond (banana) and the σC−C and σC−H donations (See figure 2).

Fig.2 Natural Hybrid Composition for the Ga−Au−Ga ‘banana‘ bond (left). Bond Critical Points (BCPs) for Au in 2 (right).

One of the most interesting features of this compound is the fact that Au(PPh3)Cl reacts differently to the digallane ligand than it does to analogous B−B, Si−Si, or Sn−Sn bonds. The Au−Cl bond does not undergo metathesis as with B−B, nor does it undergo an oxidative addition, so to further understand the chemistry of−and leading to−compound 2, the reaction mechanism energy profile was calculated in a rather painstakingly effort (Kudos, Leo, and a big shoutout to my friend Dr. Jacinto Sandoval for his one on one assistance). Figure 3 shows the energy profile for the reaction mechanism for the formation of 2 from Power’s digallane reagent and Au(PPh3)Cl.

Fig. 3 Free Energy profile for the formation of 2. All values, kcal/mol

You can read more details about this research in Organometallics DOI:10.1021/acs.organomet.0c00557. Thanks again to Profs. Rong Shang and Óscar Jiménez-Halla for bringing me on board of this project and to Leo for his relentless work getting those NBO calculations done; this is certainly the beginning of a golden opportunity for us to collaborate on a remarkable field of chemistry, it has certainly made me go bananas over Aurides chemistry. OK I’ll see myself out.

Useful Thermochemistry from Gaussian Calculations

Statistical Mechanics is the bridge between microscopic calculations and thermodynamics of a particle ensemble. By means of calculating a partition function divided in electronic, rotational, translational and vibrational functions, one can calculate all thermodynamic functions required to fully characterize a chemical reaction. From these functions, the vibrational contribution, together with the electronic contribution, is the key element to getting thermodynamic functions.

Calculating the Free Energy change of any given reaction is a useful approach to asses their thermodynamic feasibility. A large negative change in Free Energy when going from reagents to products makes up for a quantitative spontaneous (and exothermic) reaction, nevertheless the rate of the reaction is a different story, one that can be calculated as well.

Using the freq option in your route section for a Gaussian calculation is mandatory to ascertain the current wave function corresponds to a minimum on a potential energy hypersurface, but also yields the thermochemistry and thermodynamic values for the current structure. However, thermochemistry calculations are not restricted to minima but it can also be applied to transition states, therefore yielding a full thermodynamic characterization of a reaction mechanism.

A regular freq calculation yields the following output (all values in atomic units):

Zero-point correction=                           0.176113 (Hartree/Particle)
 Thermal correction to Energy=                    0.193290
 Thermal correction to Enthalpy=                  0.194235
 Thermal correction to Gibbs Free Energy=         0.125894
 Sum of electronic and zero-point Energies=           -750.901777
 Sum of electronic and thermal Energies=              -750.884600
 Sum of electronic and thermal Enthalpies=            -750.883656
 Sum of electronic and thermal Free Energies=         -750.951996

For any given reaction say A+B -> C one could take the values from the last row (lets call it G) for all three components of the reaction and perform the arithmetic: DG = GC – [GA + GB], so products minus reagents.

By default, Gaussian calculates these values (from the previously mentioned partition function) using normal conditions, T = 298.15 K and P = 1 atm. For an assessment of the thermochemistry at other conditions you can include in your route section the corresponding keywords Temperature=x.x and Pressure=x.x, in Kelvin and atmospheres, respectively.

(Huge) Disclaimer: Although calculating the thermochemistry of any reaction by means of DFT calculations is a good (and potentially very useful) guide to chemical reactivity, getting quantitative results require of high accuracy methods like G3 or G4 methods, collectively known as Gn mehtods, which are composed of pre-defined stepwise calculations. The sequence of these calculations is carried out automatically; no basis set should be specified. Other high accuracy methods like CBS-QB3 or W1U can also be considered whenever Gn methods are too costly.

New paper in PCCP: CCl3 reduced to CH3 through σ-holes #CompChem

I found it surprising that the trichloromethyl group could be chemically reduced into a methyl group quite rapidly in the presence of thiophenol, but once again a failed reaction in the lab gave us the opportunity to learn some nuances about the chemical reactivity of organic compounds. Even more surprising was the fact that this reduction occured through a mechanism in which chlorine atoms behave as electrophiles and not as nucleophiles.

We proposed the mechanism shown in figure 1 to be consistent with the 1H-NMR kinetic experiment (Figure 2) which shows the presence of the intermediary sulfides and leads to the observed phenyl-disulfide as the only isolable byproduct. The proposed mechanism invokes the presence of σ-holes on chlorine atoms to justify the attack of thiophenolate towards the chlorine atom leaving a carbanion behind during the first step. The NMR spectra were recorded at 195K which implies that the energy barriers had to be very low; the first step has a ~3kcal/mol energy barrier at this temperature.



Figure 1 – Calculated mechanism BMK/6-31G(d,p) sigma holes are observed on Cl atoms


1H NMR of the chemical reduction of the trichloromethyl group. Sulfide 4 is the only observed byproduct

To calculate these energy barriers we employed the BMK functional as implemented in Gaussian09. This functional came highly recommended to this purpose and I gotta say it delivered! The optimized geometries of all transition states and intermediaries were then taken to an MP2 single point upon which the maximum electrostatic potential on each atom (Vmax) was calculated with MultiWFN. In figure 3 we can observe the position and Vmax value of σ-holes on chlorine atoms as suggested by the mapping of electrostatic potential on the electron density of various compounds.

We later ran the same MP2 calculations on other CCl3 groups and found that the binding to an electron withdrawing group is necessary for a σ-hole to be present. (This fact was already present in the literature, of course, but reproducing it served us to validate our methodology.)


Figure 3 – Sigma holes found on other CCl3 containing compounds

We are pleased to have this work published in PhysChemChemPhys. Thanks to Dr. Moisés Romero for letting us into his laboratory and to Guillermo Caballero for his hard work both in the lab and behind the computer; Guillermo is now bound to Cambridge to get his PhD, we wish him every success possible in his new job and hope to see him again in a few years, I’m sure he will make a good job at his new laboratory.

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