Archive for November, 2017

Perspective on Tunneling Control

Over the past nine years the Schreiner group, often in collaboration with the Allen group, have produced some remarkable studies demonstrating the role of tunneling control. (I have made quite a number of posts on this topics.) Tunneling control is a third mechanism for dictating product formation, in tandem with kinetic control (the favored product is the one that results from the lowest barrier) and thermodynamic control (the favored product is the one that has the lowest energy). Tunneling control has the favored product resulting from the narrowest mass-considered barrier.

Schreiner has written a very clear perspective on tunneling control. It is framed quite interestingly by some fascinating quotes:

It is probably fair to say that many organic chemists view the concept of tunneling, even of hydrogen atoms, with some skepticism. – Carpenter 19832

Reaction processes have been considered as taking place according to the laws of classical mechanics, quantum mechanical theory being only employed in calculating interatomic forces. – Bell 19333

Schreiner’s article makes it very clear how critical it is to really think about reactions from a truly quantum mechanical perspective. He notes the predominance of potential energy diagrams that focus exclusively on the relative energies and omits any serious consideration of the reaction coordinate metrics, like barrier width. When one also considers the rise in our understanding of the role of reaction dynamics in organic chemistry (see, for example, these many posts), just how long will it take for these critical notions to penetrate into standard organic chemical thinking? As Schreiner puts it:

It should begin by including quantum phenomena in introductory textbooks, where they are, at least in organic chemistry, blatantly absent. To put this oversight in words similar to those used much earlier by Frank Weinhold in a different context: “When will chemistry textbooks begin to serve as aids, rather than barriers, to this enriched quantum-mechanical perspective?”4


1) Schreiner, P. R., "Tunneling Control of Chemical Reactions: The Third Reactivity Paradigm." J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2017, 139, 15276-15283, DOI: 10.1021/jacs.7b06035.

2) Carpenter, B. K., "Heavy-atom tunneling as the dominant pathway in a solution-phase reaction? Bond shift in antiaromatic annulenes." J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1983, 105, 1700-1701, DOI: 10.1021/ja00344a073.

3) Bell, R. P., "The Application of Quantum Mechanics to Chemical Kinetics." Proc. R. Soc. London, Ser. A 1933, 139 (838), 466-474, DOI: 10.1098/rspa.1933.0031.

4) Weinhold, F., "Chemistry: A new twist on molecular shape." Nature 2001, 411, 539-541, DOI: 10.1038/35079225.

Schreiner &Tunneling Steven Bachrach 13 Nov 2017 No Comments

Heavy atom tunneling in semibullvalene

Another prediction made by quantum chemistry has now been confirmed. In 2010, Zhang, Hrovat, and Borden predicted that the degenerate rearrangement of semibullvalene 1 occurs with heavy atom tunneling.1 For example, the computed rate of the rearrangement including tunneling correction is 1.43 x 10-3 s-1 at 40 K, and this rate does not change with decreasing temperature. The predicted half-life of 485 s is 1010 shorter than that predicted by transition state theory.

Now a group led by Sander has examined the rearrangement of deuterated 2.2 The room temperature equilibrium mixture of d42 and d22 was deposited at 3 K. IR observation showed a decrease in signal intensities associated with d42 and concomitant growth of signals associated with d22. The barrier for this interconversion is about 5 kcal mol-1, too large to be crossed at this temperature. Instead, the interconversion is happening by tunneling through the barrier (with a rate about 10-4 s-1), forming the more stable isomer d22 preferentially. This is exactly as predicted by theory!


1. Zhang, X.; Hrovat, D. A.; Borden, W. T., "Calculations Predict That Carbon Tunneling Allows the Degenerate Cope Rearrangement of Semibullvalene to Occur Rapidly at Cryogenic Temperatures." Org. Letters 2010, 12, 2798-2801, DOI: 10.1021/ol100879t.

2. Schleif, T.; Mieres-Perez, J.; Henkel, S.; Ertelt, M.; Borden, W. T.; Sander, W., "The Cope Rearrangement of 1,5-Dimethylsemibullvalene-2(4)-d1: Experimental Evidence for Heavy-Atom Tunneling." Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2017, 56, 10746-10749, DOI: 10.1002/anie.201704787.


1: InChI=1S/C8H8/c1-3-6-7-4-2-5(1)8(6)7/h1-8H

d42: InChI=1S/C10H12/c1-9-5-3-7-8(4-6-9)10(7,9)2/h3-8H,1-2H3/i5D

d22: InChI=1S/C10H12/c1-9-5-3-7-8(4-6-9)10(7,9)2/h3-8H,1-2H3/i7D

Borden &Tunneling Steven Bachrach 02 Nov 2017 No Comments