Dynamic Proton Bond: MH+·H2O ⇌ M·H3O+ Interconversion in Loosely Coordinated Environments

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The interaction of organic molecules with oxonium cations within their solvation shell may lead to the emergence of dynamic supramolecular structures with recurrently changing host–guest chemical identity. We illustrate this phenomenon in benchmark proton-bonded complexes of water with polyether macrocyles. Despite the smaller proton affinity of water versus the ether group, water in fact retains the proton in the form of H3O+, with increasing stability as the coordination number increases. Hindrance in many-fold coordination induces dynamic reversible (ether)·H3O+ ⇌ (etherH+)·H2O interconversion. We perform infrared action ion spectroscopy over a broad spectral range to expose the vibrational signatures of the loose proton bonding in these systems. Remarkably, characteristic bands for the two limiting proton bonding configurations are observed in the experimental vibrational spectra, superimposed onto diffuse bands associated with proton delocalization. These features cannot be described by static equilibrium structures but are accurately modeled within the framework of ab initio molecular dynamics.
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Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters 2023, 14, 1294−1300
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