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Scientists monitor the formation of a chemical bond for the first time

A new study has for the first time been able to monitor the different stages of a chemical reaction, as one bond breaks and another forms.

Chemical reaction

The work, involving Nottingham Trent University, the University of Southampton and the University of Warwick, has been successful in ‘trapping’ the stages in a crystalline state.

The different stages of a chemical reaction are considered to be very difficult to determine because you either have the starting material or the product and nothing in between.

The researchers have been able to measure and observe the degree of bond formation, both in terms of the increasing participation of electrons and the magnetic interaction between the two atoms at either end of the bond, as the bond forms.

The study involved using high-quality X-Ray diffraction data and cutting-edge solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) techniques on crystalline materials.

The researchers studied a series of six molecules in which a bond between a nitrogen and carbon atom was partially formed to different degrees.

This meant that, for the first time, it was possible to follow the redistribution of electrons on bond formation, determined from accurately measured X-Ray diffraction on a single crystal.

Complementary NMR work monitored the magnetic interaction between the two atoms as the bond formed.

“Our work provides the methods for studies on other bond forming processes,” said lead researcher John Wallis, Emeritus Professor in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Science and Technology.

“This is important because catalysts aim to speed up reactions by stabilising the pathway by which bonds are formed and broken.”

Two similar molecules but with different degrees of bond formation shown by the dotted magenta line

The project involved the National Crystallography Service at the University of Southampton, led by Professor Simon Coles, and the High Field Solid State NMR Laboratory at the University of Warwick, with Professor John Hanna and earlier with Professor Mark E. Smith, now Vice-Chancellor at Southampton.

The work is supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council – part of UK Research and Innovation – and is published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

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    Nottingham Trent University was named University of the Year 2019 in the Guardian University Awards. The award was based on performance and improvement in the Guardian University Guide, retention of students from low-participation areas and attainment of BME students.

    NTU was also the Times Higher Education University of the Year 2017, and The Times and Sunday Times Modern University of the Year 2018. These awards recognise NTU for its high levels of student satisfaction, its quality of teaching, its engagement with employers, and its overall student experience.

    It is one of the largest UK universities. With over 37,000 students and more than 4,000 staff located across four campuses, the University injects £1.6bn into the UK economy. It has been the largest recruiter of UK undergraduates in each of the last four years. With an international student population of more than 6,000 and an NTU community representing around 160 countries, the University prides itself on its global outlook.

    The university is passionate about creating opportunities and its extensive outreach programme is designed to enable NTU to be a vehicle for social mobility. NTU is among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and was awarded University of the Year in the UK Social Mobility Awards 2019.

Published on 10 November 2021
  • Subject area: Sciences including sport sciences
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Science and Technology