Capturing roaming molecular fragments in real time

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Science  27 Nov 2020:
Vol. 370, Issue 6520, pp. 1072-1077
DOI: 10.1126/science.abc2960

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Roaming dynamics in real time

Roaming is distinct from conventional reaction channels because of the unusual geometries that chemical systems use to bypass the minimum energy pathway. It is a relatively new phenomenon that is usually determined in experiments through spectroscopic characterization of the roaming products. Using a combination of time-resolved Coulomb explosion imaging and quasiclassical trajectory analysis, Endo et al. report real-time observation of individual fragments of the prototypical reaction of deuterated formaldehyde (D2CO) dissociation as they roam on ultrafast time scales. They show that roaming not only occurs several orders of magnitude earlier than previously expected but also that it can terminate in a radical (D + DCO) rather than the well-known molecular (D2 + CO) product channel.

Science, this issue p. 1072


Since the discovery of roaming as an alternative molecular dissociation pathway in formaldehyde (H2CO), it has been indirectly observed in numerous molecules. The phenomenon describes a frustrated dissociation with fragments roaming at relatively large interatomic distances rather than following conventional transition-state dissociation; incipient radicals from the parent molecule self-react to form molecular products. Roaming has been identified spectroscopically through static product channel–resolved measurements, but not in real-time observations of the roaming fragment itself. Using time-resolved Coulomb explosion imaging (CEI), we directly imaged individual “roamers” on ultrafast time scales in the prototypical formaldehyde dissociation reaction. Using high-level first-principles simulations of all critical experimental steps, distinctive roaming signatures were identified. These were rendered observable by extracting rare stochastic events out of an overwhelming background using the highly sensitive CEI method.

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