Direct Determination of Absolute Molecular Stereochemistry in Gas Phase by Coulomb Explosion Imaging

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Science  06 Sep 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6150, pp. 1096-1100
DOI: 10.1126/science.1240362

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Absolute Images

Molecules are held together by a balance of charge between negative electrons and positive nuclei. When multiple electrons are expelled by laser irradiation, the remaining, mutually repulsive nuclei fly apart in a Coulomb explosion. Instead of traditional x-ray diffraction methods that require crystalline samples, Pitzer et al. (p. 1096) show that by tracking the fragment trajectories from laser-induced Coulomb explosions of relatively simple gas phase molecules, they can determine the absolute stereochemical configuration of enantiomers (mirror-image isomers).


Bijvoet’s method, which makes use of anomalous x-ray diffraction or dispersion, is the standard means of directly determining the absolute (stereochemical) configuration of molecules, but it requires crystalline samples and often proves challenging in structures exclusively comprising light atoms. Herein, we demonstrate a mass spectrometry approach that directly images the absolute configuration of individual molecules in the gas phase by cold target recoil ion momentum spectroscopy after laser ionization–induced Coulomb explosion. This technique is applied to the prototypical chiral molecule bromochlorofluoromethane and the isotopically chiral methane derivative bromodichloromethane.

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