Two interesting questions are addressed in a focal-point computational study of t-butyl radical and the t-butyl anion from the Schaefer group.1 First, is the radical planar? EPR and PES studies from the 1970s indicate a pyramidal structure, with an inversion barrier of only 0.64 kcal mol-1. The CCSD(T)/cc-pCVTZ optimized structure of t-butyl radical shows it to be pyramidal with the out-of-plane angle formed by one methyl group and the other three carbons of 22.9°, much less than the 54.7° of a perfect tetrahedron. Focal point analysis give the inversion barrier 0.74 kcal mol-1, in outstanding agreement with experiment.

Second, what is the electron affinity (EA) of the t-butyl radical? Schleyer raised the concern that the alkyl anions may be unbound, and suggested that the electron affinity of t-butyl radical was -9.6 kcal mol-1; in other words, the anion is thermodynamically unstable. This focal-point study shows just how sensitive the EA is to computational method. The HF/CBS value of the EA is -39.59 kcal mol-1 (unbound anion), but the MP2/CBS value is +41.57 kcal mol-1 (bound anion!). The CCSD/aug-cc-pVQZ value is -8.92 while the CCSD(T)/aug-cc-pVQZ value is +4.79 kcal mol-1. The estimated EA at CCSDT(Q)/CBS is -1.88 kcal mol-1, and inclusion of correction terms (including ZPE and relativistic effect) gives a final estimate of the EA as -0.48 kcal mol-1, or a very weakly unbound t-butyl anion. It is somewhat disconcerting that such high-level computations are truly needed for some relatively simple questions about small molecules.


(1) Sokolov, A. Y.; Mittal, S.; Simmonett, A. C.; Schaefer, H. F. "Characterization of the t-Butyl Radical and Its Elusive Anion," J. Chem. Theory Comput. 2012, 8, 4323-4329, DOI: 10.1021/ct300753d.