The most favorable conformation of a carboxylic acid is the Z form. In fact, the E form is rarely found. Schreiner now offers an explanation for why this is so.1

Photolysis of matrix-deposited benzoic acid revealed only the Z form (1Z). However, photolysis of deuterated benzoic acid did reveal the E form 1E, however it disappeared with a half-life of 12 minutes on argon at 11 K and 20 K. The lack of temperature dependence, and the huge isotope effect suggested that the isomerization proceeds via tunneling.

The tunneling rate was computed by generating the reaction path at CCSD(T)/cc-pVTZ with
MP2/cc-pVDZ zero point energy. This gave a half-life of 2.8 h for the deuterium species and 10-5 min for the proton species. A Hammet-like relationship could be produced for the half-lives of para-substituted benzoic acids. Interestingly, a nice correlation is found between the computed width of the tunneling barrier and the half life with σ-donating ability.


(1) Amiri, S.; Reisenauer, H. P.; Schreiner, P. R., "Electronic Effects on Atom Tunneling: Conformational Isomerization of Monomeric Para-Substituted Benzoic Acid Derivatives," J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2010, 132 , 15902–15904, DOI: 10.1021/ja107531y


Benzoic acid: InChI=1/C7H6O2/c8-7(9)6-4-2-1-3-5-6/h1-5H,(H,8,9)/f/h8H