The Roaming Atom: Straying from the Reaction Path in Formaldehyde Decomposition

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Science  12 Nov 2004:
Vol. 306, Issue 5699, pp. 1158-1161
DOI: 10.1126/science.1104386

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We present a combined experimental and theoretical investigation of formaldehyde (H2CO) dissociation to H2 and CO at energies just above the threshold for competing H elimination. High-resolution state-resolved imaging measurements of the CO velocity distributions reveal two dissociation pathways. The first proceeds through a well-established transition state to produce rotationally excited CO and vibrationally cold H2. The second dissociation pathway yields rotationally cold CO in conjunction with highly vibrationally excited H2. Quasi-classical trajectory calculations performed on a global potential energy surface for H2CO suggest that this second channel represents an intramolecular hydrogen abstraction mechanism: One hydrogen atom explores large regions of the potential energy surface before bonding with the second H atom, bypassing the saddle point entirely.

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