Posts Tagged ‘Deuterium’

Epoxidation of ethene: a new substituent twist.

Friday, December 21st, 2018

Five years back, I speculated about the mechanism of the epoxidation of ethene by a peracid, concluding that kinetic isotope effects provided interesting evidence that this mechanism is highly asynchronous and involves a so-called “hidden intermediate”. Here I revisit this reaction in which a small change is applied to the atoms involved.


Natural abundance kinetic isotope effects: expt. vs theory.

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

My PhD thesis involved determining kinetic isotope effects (KIE) for aromatic electrophilic substitution reactions in an effort to learn more about the nature of the transition states involved.[1] I learnt relatively little, mostly because a transition state geometry is defined by 3N-6 variables (N = number of atoms) and its force constants by even more and you get only one or two measured KIE per reaction; a rather under-defined problem in terms of data! So I decided to spend a PostDoc learning how to invert the problem by computing the anticipated isotope effects using quantum mechanics and then comparing the predictions with measured KIE.[2] Although such computation allows access to ALL possible isotope effects, the problem is still under-defined because of the lack of measured KIE to compare the predictions with. In 1995 Dan Singleton and Allen Thomas reported an elegant strategy to this very problem by proposing a remarkably simple method for obtaining KIE using natural isotopic abundances.[3] It allows isotope effects to be measured for all the positions in one of the reactant molecules by running the reaction close to completion and then recovering unreacted reactant and measuring the changes in its isotope abundances using NMR. The method has since been widely applied[4],[5] and improved.[6] Here I explore how measured and calculated KIE can be reconciled.



  1. B.C. Challis, and H.S. Rzepa, "The mechanism of diazo-coupling to indoles and the effect of steric hindrance on the rate-limiting step", Journal of the Chemical Society, Perkin Transactions 2, pp. 1209, 1975.
  2. M.J.S. Dewar, S. Olivella, and H.S. Rzepa, "Ground states of molecules. 49. MINDO/3 study of the retro-Diels-Alder reaction of cyclohexene", Journal of the American Chemical Society, vol. 100, pp. 5650-5659, 1978.
  3. D.A. Singleton, and A.A. Thomas, "High-Precision Simultaneous Determination of Multiple Small Kinetic Isotope Effects at Natural Abundance", Journal of the American Chemical Society, vol. 117, pp. 9357-9358, 1995.
  4. Y. Wu, R.P. Singh, and L. Deng, "Asymmetric Olefin Isomerization of Butenolides via Proton Transfer Catalysis by an Organic Molecule", Journal of the American Chemical Society, vol. 133, pp. 12458-12461, 2011.
  5. J. Chan, A.R. Lewis, M. Gilbert, M. Karwaski, and A.J. Bennet, "A direct NMR method for the measurement of competitive kinetic isotope effects", Nature Chemical Biology, vol. 6, pp. 405-407, 2010.