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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.

Quick note on WFN(X) files and MP2 calculations #G09 #CompChem

A few weeks back we wrote about using WFN(X) files with MultiWFN in order to find σ-holes in halogen atoms by calculating the maximum potential on a given surface. We later found out that using a chk file to generate a wfn(x) file using the guess=(read,only) keyword didn’t retrieve the MP2 wavefunction but rather the HF wavefunction! Luckily we realized this problem very quickly and were able to fix it. We tried to generate the wfn(x) file with the following keywords at the route section

#p guess=(read,only) density=current

but we kept retrieving the HF values, which we noticed by running the corresponding HF calculation and noticing that every value extracted from the WFN file was exactly the same.

So, if you want a WFN(X) file for post processing an MP2 (or any other post-HartreFock calculation for that matter) ask for it from the beginning of your calculation in the same job. I still don’t know how to work around this or but will be happy to report it whenever I do.

PS. A sincere apology to all subscribers for getting a notification to this post when it wasn’t still finished.

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