Encoding of vinylidene isomerization in its anion photoelectron spectrum

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Science  20 Oct 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6361, pp. 336-339
DOI: 10.1126/science.aao1905

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The quantum mechanics of a hydrogen hop

Hydrogen migration between adjacent carbons is widespread in the reaction mechanisms of organic chemistry. DeVine et al. used photoelectron spectroscopy to discern the quantum mechanical underpinnings of this 1,2 shift in a prototypical case: conversion of vinylidene (H2CC) to acetylene (HCCH). The technique probed specific states of vinylidene by ejecting electrons with varying energies from a negative ion precursor. Experimental data and accompanying theoretical simulations pinpointed a vibrational rocking mode that facilitated the migration. Replacement of hydrogen with its heavier deuterium isotope disrupted this pathway.

Science, this issue p. 336


Vinylidene-acetylene isomerization is the prototypical example of a 1,2-hydrogen shift, one of the most important classes of isomerization reactions in organic chemistry. This reaction was investigated with quantum state specificity by high-resolution photoelectron spectroscopy of the vinylidene anions H2CCˉ and D2CCˉ and quantum dynamics calculations. Peaks in the photoelectron spectra are considerably narrower than in previous work and reveal subtleties in the isomerization dynamics of neutral vinylidene, as well as vibronic coupling with an excited state of vinylidene. Comparison with theory permits assignment of most spectral features to eigenstates dominated by vinylidene character. However, excitation of the ν6 in-plane rocking mode in H2CC results in appreciable tunneling-facilitated mixing with highly vibrationally excited states of acetylene, leading to broadening and/or spectral fine structure that is largely suppressed for analogous vibrational levels of D2CC.

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