Posts Tagged ‘free energy barrier’

A computed mechanistic pathway for the formation of an amide from an acid and an amine in non-polar solution.

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

In London, one has the pleasures of attending occasional one day meetings at the Burlington House, home of the Royal Society of Chemistry. On November 5th this year, there was an excellent meeting on the topic of Challenges in Catalysisand you can see the speakers and (some of) their slides here. One talk on the topic of Direct amide formation – the issues, the art, the industrial application by Dave Jackson caught my interest. He asked whether an amide could be formed directly from a carboxylic acid and an amine without the intervention of an explicit catalyst. The answer involved noting that the carboxylic acid was itself a catalyst in the process, and a full mechanistic exploration of this aspect can be found in an article published in collaboration with Andy Whiting’s group at Durham.[1] My after-thoughts in the pub centered around the recollection that I had written some blog posts about the reaction between hydroxylamine and propanone. Might there be any similarity between the two mechanisms?



  1. H. Charville, D.A. Jackson, G. Hodges, A. Whiting, and M.R. Wilson, "The Uncatalyzed Direct Amide Formation Reaction - Mechanism Studies and the Key Role of Carboxylic Acid H-Bonding", European Journal of Organic Chemistry, vol. 2011, pp. 5981-5990, 2011.

Benzene. As you have never seen it represented before!

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

Continuing my european visits, here are two photos from Bonn. First, a word about how the representation of benzene evolved, attributed to Kekulé.


Caesium trifluoride: could it be made?

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

Mercury (IV) tetrafluoride attracted much interest when it was reported in 2007[1] as the first instance of the metal being induced to act as a proper transition element (utilising d-electrons for bonding) rather than a post-transition main group metal (utilising just s-electrons) for which the HgF2 dihalide would be more normal (“Is mercury now a transition element?”[2]). Perhaps this is the modern equivalent of transmutation! Well, now we have new speculation about how to induce the same sort of behaviour for caesium; might it form CsF3 (at high pressures) rather than the CsF we would be more familiar with.[3] Here I report some further calculations inspired by this report.



  1. X. Wang, L. Andrews, S. Riedel, and M. Kaupp, "Mercury Is a Transition Metal: The First Experimental Evidence for HgF4", Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., vol. 46, pp. 8371-8375, 2007.
  2. W.B. Jensen, "Is Mercury Now a Transition Element?", J. Chem. Educ., vol. 85, pp. 1182, 2008.
  3. M. Miao, "Caesium in high oxidation states and as a p-block element", Nature Chem, vol. 5, pp. 846-852, 2013.

Mechanism of the Boekelheide rearrangement

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

A reader asked me about the mechanism of the reaction of 2-picoline N-oxide with acetic anhydride to give 2-acetoxymethylpyridine (the Boekelheide Rearrangement[1]). He wrote ” I don’t understand why the system should prefer to go via fragmentation-recombination (… the evidence being that oxygen labelling shows scrambling) when there is an easy concerted pathway available (… a [3,3]sigmatropic shift). Furthermore, is it possible for two pathways to co-exist?” Here is how computation might enlighten us.



  1. A. Massaro, A. Mordini, A. Mingardi, J. Klein, and D. Andreotti, "A New Sequential Intramolecular Cyclization Based on the Boekelheide Rearrangement", European Journal of Organic Chemistry, vol. 2011, pp. 271-279, 2010.

Another Woodward pericyclic example dissected: all is not what it seems.

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

Here is another example gleaned from that Woodward essay of 1967 (Chem. Soc. Special Publications (Aromaticity), 1967, 21, 217-249), where all might not be what it seems.


Hidden intermediates in the benzidine rearrangement. The monoprotonated mechanism.

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Eagle-eyed footnote readers might have spotted one at the bottom of the post on the benzidine rearrangement. I was comparing the N-N bond lengths in crystal structures of known diprotonated hydrazines (~1.45Å) with the computed N-N bond length at the start point of the intrinsic reaction coordinate for the [5,5] sigmatropic rearrangement of di-N-protonated diphenylhydrazine (the active species in the benzidine rearrangement itself), which was some 1Å longer. This post explores the implications of this oddity.


The mechanism of the Birch reduction. Part 2: a transition state model.

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

I promised that the follow-up to on the topic of Birch reduction would focus on the proton transfer reaction between the radical anion of anisole and a proton source, as part of analysing whether the mechanistic pathway proceeds O or M.


Transition state models for Baldwin’s rules of ring closure.

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

The Baldwin rules for ring closure follow the earlier ones by Bürgi and Dunitz in stating the preferred angles of nucleophilic (and electrophilic) attack in bond forming reactions, and are as famous for the interest in their exceptions as for their adherence. Both sets of rules fundamentally explore the geometry of the transition states involved in the reaction, as reflected in the activation free energies. Previous posts exploring the transition states for well-known reactions have revealed that the 4th dimension (the timing of the bond formations/breakings) can often spring surprises. So this post will explore a typical Baldwin ring formation in the same way.


Chemistry in an attosecond.

Friday, November 4th, 2011

An attosecond is 10-18s. The chemistry that takes place on this timescale is called electron dynamics. For example, it is the time taken for an electron to traverse the 1s orbit in a hydrogen atom. And chemists are starting to manipulate electrons (and hence chemistry) on this timescale; for example a recent article (DOI: 10.1021/ja206193t) describes how to control the electrons in benzene using attosecond laser pulses.


The Sn1…Sn2 mechanistic continuum. The special case of neopentyl bromide

Monday, May 9th, 2011

Introductory organic chemistry invariably features the mechanism of haloalkane solvolysis, and introduces both the Sn1 two-step mechanism, and the Sn2 one step mechanism to students. They are taught to balance electronic effects (the stabilization of carbocations) against steric effects in order to predict which mechanism prevails. It was whilst preparing a tutorial on this topic that I came across what was described as the special case of neopentyl bromide, the bimolecular solvolysis of which has been identified (DOI: 10.1021/ja01182a117) as being as much as 3 million times slower than methyl bromide. This is attributed to a very strong steric effect on the reaction, greater even than that which might be experienced by t-butyl bromide! Time I thought, to take a look at what might make neopentyl bromide so special, and what those supposed electronic and steric effects were really up to.