Development of real-time mechanistic tools for the elucidation of catalytic reaction mechanisms




Stoddard, Rhonda Louise

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The mechanism of a conjugate addition of an alcohol to an alkynic acid ester using a phosphine catalyst was investigated using pressurized sample infusion electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (PSI-ESI-MS) and proton and phosphorus nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) experiments. Since ESI-MS only detects charged species, and only the phosphonium intermediates and by-products were visible by ESI-MS, 1H NMR was used to track the disappearance of the starting alkyne and the appearance of the conjugate addition product over time. 31P NMR was used to quantify the ESI-MS results. By-product formation was shown to out-compete product formation upon fast addition of alkyne, but with dropwise addition of alkyne, product was shown to dominate. A detailed numerical model was developed using PowerSim software to test mechanistic hypotheses. The experimental results were shown to be consistent with the mechanism proposed by Inanaga, and the cycle was elaborated to account for by-product formation. Piers’catalyst, a ruthenium complex with a phosphonium-functionalized carbene ligand, is a fast-initiating living catalyst for a number of olefin metathesis reactions, including ring-opening metathesis polymerization (ROMP) and cross metathesis (CM). Catalyst speciation was monitored in real-time for the ROMP of norbornene and the CM of 1-hexene using PSI-ESI-MS. The expected mass distribution of charged polymer-catalyst species were not observed, but merely catalyst and decomposition species were visible by ESI-MS. NMR and gel permeation chromatography (GPC) were used to determine quantitatively the presence of polymer and the polydispersity index, respectively. The results suggest that while Piers’ catalyst is indeed fast-initiating, the propagation rate greatly outstrips the initiation rate. In a foray into the area of chemical education, a well-known pH-induced colour change exhibited by the anthocyanins in red cabbage was developed into a simple – and ingestible – classroom demonstration.



ESI-MS, phosphine catalysis, ring opening metathesis polymerization, conjugate addition, cross metathesis, NMR, Piers' catalyst