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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.


The ‘art’ of finding Transition States Part 1

Guillermo CaballeroGuillermo Caballero, a graduate student from this lab, has written this two-part post on the nuances to be considered when searching for transition states in the theoretical assessment of reaction mechanisms. He’s been quite successful in getting beautiful energy profiles for organic reaction mechanisms, some of which have even explained why some reactions do not occur! A paper in Tetrahedron has just been accepted but we’ll talk about it in another post. I wanted Guillermo to share his insight into this hard practice of computational chemistry so he wrote the following post. Enjoy!


Yes, finding a transition state (TS) can be one of the most challenging tasks in computational chemistry, it requires both a good choice of keywords in your route section and all of your chemical intuition as well. Herein I give you some good tricks when you have to find a transition state using Gaussian 09 Rev. D1

METHOD 1. The first option you should try is to use the opt=qst2 keyword. With this method you provide the structures of your reagents and your products, then the program uses the quadratic synchronous transit algorithm to find a possible transition state structure and then optimize it to a first order saddle point. Here is an example of the input file.

link 0
--blank line--
#p b3lyp/6-31G(d,p) opt=qst2 geom=connectivity freq=noraman
--blank line--
Charge Multiplicity
Coordinates of reagents
--blank line--
Charge Multiplicity
Coordinates of products
--blank line---

It is mandatory that the numbering must be the same in the reagents and the products otherwise the calculation will crash. To verify that the label for a given atom is the same in reagents and products you can go to Edit, then Connection. This opens a new window were you can manually modify the numbering scheme. I suggest you to work in a split window in gaussview so you can see at the same time your reagents and products.

The keyword freq=noraman is used to calculate the frequencies for your optimized structure, it is important because for a TS you must only observe one imaginary frequency, if not, then that is not a TS and you have to use another method. It also occurs that despite you find a first order saddle point, the imaginary frequency does not correspond to the bond forming or bond breaking in your TS, thus, you should use another method. I will give you advice later in the text for when this happens. When you use the noraman in this keyword you are not calculating the Raman frequencies, which for the purpose of a TS is unnecessary and saves computing time. Frequency analysis MUST be performed AT THE VERY SAME LEVEL OF THEORY at which the optimization is performed.

The main advantage for using the qst2 option is that if your calculation is going to crash, it generally crashes at the beginning, in the moment of guessing your transition state structure. Once the program have a guess, it starts the optimization. I suggest you to ask the algorithm to calculate the force constants once, this generally improves on the convergence, it will take slightly more time depending on the size of your structure but it pays off. The keyword in the route section is opt=(qst2,calcfc). Indeed, I hardly encourage you to use the calcfc keyword in any optimization you want to run.

METHOD 2. If method 1 does not work, my next advice is to use the opt=ts keyword. For this method, the coordinates in your input file are those for the TS structure. Here is an example of the input file.

link 0
--blank line--
#p b3lyp/6-31G(d,p) opt=ts geom=connectivity freq=noraman
--blank line--
Charge Multiplicity
Coordinates of TS
--blank line--

The question that arises here is how should I get the coordinates for my TS? Well, honestly this is not a trivial task, here is where you use all the chemistry you know. For example, you can start with the coordinates of your reagents and manually get them closer. If you are forming a bond whose length is to be 1.5Å, then I suggest you to have that length in 1.6Å in your TS. Sometimes this becomes trial and error but the most accurate your TS structure is, based on your chemical knowledge, the easiest to find your TS will be. As another example, if you want to find a TS for a [1,5]-sigmatropic reaction a good TS structure will be putting the hydrogen atom that migrates in the middle point through the way. I have to insist, this method hardly depends on your imagination to elucidate a TS and on your chemistry background.

Most of the time when you use the opt=ts keyword the calculations crashes because of an error in the number of eigenvalues, you can avoid it adding noeigen to the route section; here is an example of the input file, I encourage you to use this method.

link 0
--blank line--
#p b3lyp/6-31G(d,p) opt=(ts,noeigen,calcfc) geom=connectivity freq=noraman
--blank line--
Charge Multiplicity
Coordinates of TS
--blank line--

If you have problems in the optimization steps I suggest you to ask the algorithm to calculate the force constants in every step of the optimization opt=(ts,noeigen,calcall) this is quite a harsh method because will consume long computing time but works well for small molecules and for complicated TSs to find.

Another ‘tricky’ way to get your coordinates for your TS is to run the qst2 calculation, then if it fails, take the second- or the third-step coordinates and used them as a ‘pre-optimized’ set of coordinates for this method.

By the way, here is another useful trick. If you are evaluating a group of TSs, let’s say, if you are varying a functional group among the group, focus on finding the TS for the simplest case, then use this optimized TS as a template where you add the moieties and use this this method. This works pretty well.

For this post we’ll leave it up to here and post the rest of Guillermo’s tricks and advice on finding TS structures next week when we’ll also discuss the use of IRC calculations and some considerations on energy corrections when plotting the full energy profile. In the mean time please take the time to rate, like and share this and other posts.

Thanks for reading!


Two more students graduated!

It is with great pleasure that I’d like to announce the thesis defense of Guillermo “Memo” Caballero and Howard Diaz who in past days became the second and third students, respectively, to get their B.Sc. degrees with theses completed at our lab. I want to publicly thank them for their hard work which hasn’t only contributed with a thesis to our library but will soon contribute with research papers to our count.

Guillermo “Memo” Caballero worked on the calculation of a reaction mechanism that cannot happen. He started as a synthetic chemist and when he hit a wall at the lab he thought computational chemistry might help him get synthesis on the right direction. He has proven now that the aromatization process of a substituted glutarimide into the corresponding pyridine can only proceed only if substituents with a very strong electron withdrawing effect are used. For two reaction mechanisms proposed, both of them intramolecular rearrangements and only one of them concerted, the calculated energy barriers to reach for the corresponding transition states (QST2 and QST3 methods used) are higher than a pyrolitic decomposition. Memo found also that the delocalization of the pi electron system and its extent goes a long way into the stabilization of the non-aromatic analogue. At first we wanted to treat this problem as a tautomeric equilibrium but since we cannot observe the aromatic tautomer there is no equilibrium and hence no tautomerism. We are still thinking how to name this correspondence between the two compounds when we submit the corresponding paper. It must be said that Guillermo graduated with the highest honors in a most deserved way.

Howard Diaz worked on the design of molecular blockers for the entrance process of the HIV-1 virus into lymphocytes through the GP120 protein. Six known blockers based on phenyl-indoyl-urea were assessed through docking, the binding site of the GP120 protein was described in terms of the interactions formed with each on these compounds and that served as the basis for what in the end came up to be a 36 compound library of blockers, whose structures were first optimized at the B3LYP/6-31G** level of theory. All the 42 blockers were docked in the binding site of the protein and a thorough conformational search was performed. From this set, lead compounds were selected in terms of their binding energies (first calculated heuristically) and further studied at the Density Functional Theory, B97D/cc-pVTZ in order to study the electronic structure of the blocker when interacting with a selection of residues at the binding site. Interaction energies calculated at the quantum level are consistent with the complex formation but since we had to cut the protein to only a few residues little correlation is found with the first calculation; this is fine and still publishable, I just wish we had a more seamless transition between heuristics and quantum chemical calculations. Wiberg indexes were very low, as consistent with a hydrophobic cavity, and delocalization energies calculated with second order perturbation theory analysis on the Natural Bond Orbitals revealed that the two most important interactions are C-H…π and Cl…π, these two were selected as key parameters in our design of new drugs for preventing the HIV-1 virus to bind lymphocytes-T; now we only need to have them synthesized and tested (anyone interested?).

Thank you guys for all your hard work, it has truly payed off. I’m completely certain that no matter what you do and where you go you will be very successful in your careers and I wish you nothing but the very best. This lab’s doors will always remain open for you.


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