Posts Tagged ‘potential energy surface’

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", Angewandte Chemie International Edition, vol. 46, pp. 8371-8375, 2007.
  2. M. Miao, "Caesium in high oxidation states and as a p-block element", Nature Chemistry, vol. 5, pp. 846-852, 2013.

The Sn2 reaction and the anomaly of carbon.

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

It was three years ago that I first blogged on the topic of the Sn2 reaction. Matthias Bickelhaupt had suggested that the Sn2 reaction involving displacement at a carbon atom was an anomaly; the true behaviour was in fact exhibited by the next element down in the series, silicon. The pentacoordinate species shown below (X=Si) is naturally a minimum, and the fact that for carbon (X=C) one gets instead a transition state resulting in a significant thermal barrier (~ 20 kcal/mol) was a manifestation of abnormal behaviour.


Cyclopentadiene: a hydrocarbon at the crossroads of …

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

organic chemistry. It does not look like much, but this small little molecule brought us ferrocene, fluxional NMR, aromatic anions and valley-ridge inflexion points. You might not have heard of this last one, but in fact I mentioned the phenomenon in my post on nitrosobenzene. As for being at a crossroads, more like a Y-junction. Let me explain why.


Dynamic effects in nucleophilic substitution at trigonal carbon.

Monday, July 16th, 2012

Singleton and co-workers have produced some wonderful work showing how dynamic effects and not just transition states can control the outcome of reactions. Steve Bachrach’s blog contains many examples, including this recent one.


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.


The importance of being complete.

Monday, September 26th, 2011

To (mis)quote Oscar Wilde again, ““To lose one methyl group may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.” Here, I refer to the (past) tendency of molecular modellers to simplify molecular structures. Thus in 1977, quantum molecular modelling, even at the semi-empirical level, was beset by lost groups. One of my early efforts (DOI: 10.1021/ja00465a005) was selected for study because it had nothing left to lose; the mass spectrometric fragmentation of the radical cations of methane and ethane. Methyl, phenyl and other “large” groups were routinely replaced by hydrogen in order to enable the study. Cations indeed were always of interest to modellers; the relative lack of electrons almost always meant unusual or interesting structures and reactions (including this controversial species, DOI: 10.1021/ja00444a012). Inured to such functional loss, we modellers forgot that (unless in a mass spectrometer), cations have to have a counter anion. Here I explore one example of the model being complete(d).


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.


Hypervalency: Is it real?

Saturday, October 16th, 2010

The Wikipedia page on hypervalent compounds reveals that the concept is almost as old as that of normally valent compounds. The definition there,  is “a molecule that contains one or more main group elements formally bearing more than eight electrons in their valence shells” (although it could equally apply to e.g. transition elements that would contain e.g. more than 18 electrons in their valence shell). The most extreme example would perhaps be of iodine (or perhaps xenon). The normal valency of iodine is one (to formally complete the octet in the valence shell) but of course compounds such as IF7 imply the valency might reach 7 (and by implication that the octet of electrons expands to 14). So what of IF7? Well, there is a problem due to the high electronegativity of the fluorine. One could argue that the bonds in this molecule are ionic, and hence that the valence electrons really reside in lone pairs on the F. Thus the apparently hypervalent PF5 could be written PF4+…F, in which case the P is not really hypervalent after all. We need a compound with un-arguably covalent bonds. Well, what about IH7? One might probably still argue about ionicity (for example H+…IH6) but that puts electrons on I and not H, and hence does not change any hypervalency on the iodine. Surely, if hypervalency is a real phenomenon, it should manifest in IH7?


Conformational analysis of biphenyls: an upside-down view

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

One of the (not a few) pleasures of working in a university is the occasional opportunity that arises to give a new lecture course to students. New is not quite the correct word, since the topic I have acquired is Conformational analysis. The original course at Imperial College was delivered by Derek Barton himself about 50 years ago (for articles written by him on the topic, see DOI 10.1126/science.169.3945.539 or the original 10.1039/QR9561000044), and so I have had an opportunity to see how the topic has evolved since then, and perhaps apply some quantitative quantum mechanical interpretations unavailable to Barton himself.


The conformation of cyclohexane

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Like benzene, its fully saturated version cyclohexane represents an icon of organic chemistry. By 1890, the structure of planar benzene was pretty much understood, but organic chemistry was still struggling somewhat to fully embrace three rather than two dimensions. A grand-old-man of organic chemistry at the time, Adolf von Baeyer, believed that cyclohexane too was flat, and what he said went. So when a young upstart named Hermann Sachse suggested it was not flat, and furthermore could exist in two forms, which we now call chair and boat, no-one believed him. His was a trigonometric proof, deriving from the tetrahedral angle of 109.47 at carbon, and producing what he termed strainless rings.