The acrylonitrile dimer ion: A study of its dissociation via self-catalysis, self-protonation and cyclization into the pyrimidine radical cation

H.K. Ervasti, K.J. Jobst, P.C. Burgers, P.J.A. Ruttink, J.K. Terlouw

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Large energy barriers prohibit the rearrangement of solitary acrylonitrile ions, CH2CHCN+, into their more stable hydrogen-shift isomers CH2CCNH+ or CHCH–CNH+. This prompted us to examine if these isomerizations occur by self-catalysis in acrylonitrile dimer ions. Such ions, generated by chemical ionization experiments of acrylonitrile with an excess of carbon dioxide, undergo five dissociations in the μs time frame, as witnessed by peaks at m/z 53, 54, 79, 80 and 105 in their metastable ion mass spectrum. Collision experiments on these product ions, deuterium labeling, and a detailed computational analysis using the CBS-QB3 model chemistry lead to the following conclusions: (i) the m/z 54 ions are ions CH2CHCNH+ generated by self-protonation in ion–dipole stabilized hydrogen-bridged dimer ions [CH2CHCNH–C(CN)CH2]+ and [CH2CHCNH–C(H)C(H)CN]+; the proton shifts in these ions are associated with a small reverse barrier; (ii) dissociation of the H-bridged ions into CH2CCNH+ or CHCH–CNH+ by self-catalysis is energetically feasible but kinetically improbable: experiment shows that the m/z 53 ions are CH2CHCN+ ions, generated by back dissociation; (iii) the peaks at m/z 79, 80 and 105 correspond with the losses of HCN, C2H2 and H, respectively. The calculations indicate that these ions are generated from dimer ions that have adopted the (much more stable) covalently bound “head-to-tail” structure [CH2CHCN–C(H2)C(H)CN]+; experiments indicate that the m/z 79 (C5H5N) and m/z 105 (C6H6N2) ions have linear structures but the m/z 80 (C4H4N2) ions consist of ionized pyrimidine in admixture with its stable pyrimidine-2-ylidene isomer. Acrylonitrile is a confirmed species in interstellar space and our study provides experimental and computational evidence that its dimer radical cation yields the ionized prebiotic pyrimidine molecule.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)88-100
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Mass Spectrometry
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2007

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