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Posts Tagged ‘ligand substitution

Quirky Ligand Substitutions

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Over the years, a variety of “quirky” substitution methods have been developed. All of these have the common goal of facilitating substitution in complexes that would otherwise be inert. It’s an age-old challenge: how can we turn a stable complex into something unstable enough to react? Photochemical excitation, oxidation/reduction, and radical chains all do the job, and have all been well studied. We’ll look at a few examples in this post—remember these methods when simple associative or dissociative substitution won’t get the job done.

Photochemical Substitution

Substitution reactions of dative ligands—most famously, CO—may be facilitated by photochemical excitation. Two examples are shown below. The first reaction yields only monosubstituted product without ultraviolet light, even in the presence of a strongly donating phosphine.

Dissociative photochemical substitutions of CO and dinitrogen.

Dissociative photochemical substitutions of CO and dinitrogen.

All signs point to dissociative mechanisms for these reactions (the starting complexes have 18 total electrons each). Excitation, then, must increase the M–L antibonding character of the complex’s electrons; exactly how this increase in antibonding character happens has been a matter of some debate. Originally, the prevailing explanation was that the LUMO bears M–L antibonding character, and excitation kicks an electron up from the HOMO to the LUMO, encouraging cleavage of the M–L bond. A more recent, more subtle explanation backed by calculations supports the involvement of a metal-to-ligand charge-transfer state along with the “classical” ligand-field excited state.


Imagine a screaming baby without her pacifier—that’s a nice analogy for an odd-electron organometallic complex. Complexes bearing 17 and 19 total electrons are much more reactive toward substitution than their even-electron counterparts. Single-electron oxidation and reduction (“popping out the pacifier,” if you will) can thus be used to efficiently turn on substitution. As you might expect, oxidation and reduction work best on electron-rich and electron-poor complexes, respectively. The Mn complex in the oxidative example below, for instance, includes a strongly donating MeCp group (not shown).

Oxidation accelerates substitution in electron-rich complexes, through a chain process.

Oxidation accelerates substitution in electron-rich complexes through a chain process.

Reduction works well for electron-poor metal carbonyl complexes, which are happy to accept an additional electron. Read the rest of this entry »


Written by Michael Evans

June 5, 2012 at 6:49 pm

Let’s Get Together: Associative Ligand Substitution

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Despite the sanctity of the 18-electron rule to many students of organometallic chemistry, a wide variety of stable complexes possess fewer than 18 total electrons at the metal center. Perhaps the most famous examples of these complexes are 14- and 16-electron complexes of group 10 metals involved in cross-coupling reactions. Ligand substitution in complexes of this class typically occurs via an associative mechanism, involving approach of the incoming ligand to the complex before departure of the leaving group. If we keep this principle in mind, it seems easy enough to predict when ligand substitution is likely to be associative. But how can we spot an associative mechanism in experimental data, and what are some of the consequences of this mechanism?

The prototypical mechanism of associative ligand substitution.

The prototypical mechanism of associative ligand substitution. The first step is rate-determining.

A typical mechanism for associative ligand substitution is shown above. It should be noted that square pyramidal geometry is also possible for the intermediate, but is less common. Let’s begin with the kinetics of the reaction. Read the rest of this entry »

Ligand Substitution: General Ideas

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Ligand substitution is the first reaction one typically encounters in an organometallic chemistry course. In general, ligand substitution involves the exchange of one ligand for another, with no change in oxidation state at the metal center. The incoming and outgoing ligands may be L- or X-type, but the charge of the complex changes if the ligand type changes. Keep charge conservation in mind when writing out ligand substitutions.

Charge is conserved in ligand substitution reactions. Four general types of substitution are shown here.

Charge is conserved in ligand substitution reactions. Four general types of substitution are shown here—note the X-for-L and L-for-X types.

How do we know when a ligand substitution reaction is favorable? The thermodynamics of the reaction depend on the relative strength of the two metal-ligand bonds, and the stability of the departing and incoming ligands (or salt sof the ligand, if they’re X type). It’s often useful to think of X-for-X substitutions like acid-base reactions, with the metal and spectator ligands serving as a “glorified proton.” Like acid-base equilibria in organic chemistry, we look to the relative stability of the two charged species (the free ligands) to draw conclusions. Of course, we don’t necessarily need to rely just on primal thermodynamics to drive ligand substitution reactions. Photochemistry, neighboring-group participation, and other tools can facilitate otherwise difficult substitutions.

Ligand substitution is characterized by a continuum of mechanisms bound by associative (A) and dissociative (D) extremes. At the associative extreme, the incoming ligand first forms a bond to the metal, then the departing ligand takes its lone pair and leaves. At the dissociative extreme, the order of events is opposite—the departing ligand leaves, then the incoming ligand comes in. Associative substitution is common for 16-electron complexes (like d8 complexes of Ni, Pd, and Pt), while dissociative substitution is the norm for 18-electron complexes. Then again, reality is often more complicated than these extremes. In some cases, evidence is available for simultaneous dissociation and association, and this mechanism has been given the name interchange (IA or ID).

Over the next few posts, we’ll explore ligand substitution reactions and mechanisms in detail. We’d like to be able to (a) predict whether a mechanism is likely to be associative or dissociative; (b) propose a reasonable mechanism from given experimental data; and (c) describe the results we’d expect given a particular mechanism. Keep these goals in mind as you learn the theoretical and experimental nuts and bolts of substitution reactions.

Written by Michael Evans

May 11, 2012 at 10:06 pm

The trans/cis Effects & Influences

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The trans effect is an ancient but venerable observation. First noted by Chernyaev in 1926, the trans effect and its conceptual siblings (the trans influence, cis influence, and cis effect) are easy enough to comprehend. That is, it’s simple enough to know what they are. To understand why they are, on the other hand, is much more difficult. I call ideas like this—which, by the way, pop up often in organometallic chemistry—”icebergs.” Their definitions are simple and easy to see; their explanations can be complex.

Definitions & Examples

Let’s begin with definitions: what is the trans effect? There’s some confusion on this point, so we need to be careful. The trans effect proper, which is often called the kinetic trans effect, refers to the observation that certain ligands increase the rate of ligand substitution when positioned trans to the departing ligand. The key word in that last sentence is “rate”—the trans effect proper is a kinetic effect. The trans influence refers to the impact of a ligand on the length of the bond trans to it in the ground state of a complex. The key phrase there is “ground state”—this is a thermodynamic effect, so it’s sometimes called the thermodynamic trans effect. Adding to the insanity, cis effects and cis influences have also been observed. Evidently, ligands may also influence the kinetics or thermodynamics of their cis neighbors. All of these phenomena are independent of the metal center, but do depend profoundly on the geometry of the metal (more on that shortly).

Kinetic trans and cis effects are shown in the figure below. In both cases, we see that X1 exhibits a stronger effect than X2. The geometries shown are those for which each effect is most commonly observed. The metals and oxidation states shown are prototypical.

The kinetic trans and cis effects in action. X1 is the stronger (trans/cis)-effect ligand in these examples.

The kinetic trans and cis effects in action. X1 is the stronger (trans/cis)-effect ligand in these examples.

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What is an Open Coordination Site?

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The concept of coordinative unsaturation can be confusing for the student of organometallic chemistry, but recognizing open coordination sites in OM complexes is a critical skill. Why? Let’s begin with a famous example of coordinative unsaturation from organic chemistry.

An analogy from organic chemistry. The reactivity of the carbene flows from its open coordination site.

An analogy from organic chemistry. The reactivity of the carbene flows from its open coordination site.

Carbenes are both nucleophilic and electrophilic, but the essence of their electrophilicity comes from the fact that they don’t have their fair share of electrons (8). They have not been saturated with electrons—carbenes want more! To achieve saturation, carbenes may inherit a pair of electrons from a σ bond (σ-bond insertion), π bond (cyclopropanation), or lone pair (ylide formation). Notice that, simply by spotting coordinative unsaturation, we’ve been able to fully describe the carbene’s reactivity! We can do the same with organometallic complexes—open coordination sites suggest specific reactivity patterns. That’s why understanding coordinative unsaturation and recognizing its telltale sign (the open coordination site) are essential skills for the organometallic chemist. Read the rest of this entry »

Epic Ligand Survey: π Systems (Part 1)

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Epic Ligand Survey: Pi SystemsWith this post, we finally reach our first class of dative actor ligands, π systems. In contrast to the spectator L-type ligands we’ve seen so far, π systems most often play an important role in the reactivity of the OM complexes of which they are a part (since they act in reactions, they’re called “actors”). π Systems do useful chemistry, not just with the metal center, but also with other ligands and external reagents. Thus, in addition to thinking about how π systems affect the steric and electronic properties of the metal center, we need to start considering the metal’s effect on the ligand and how we might expect the ligand to behave as an active participant in reactions. To the extent that structure determines reactivity—a commonly repeated, and extremely powerful maxim in organic chemistry—we can think about possibilities for chemical change without knowing the elementary steps of organometallic chemistry in detail yet. And we’re off!

General Properties

The π bonding orbitals of alkenes, alkynes, carbonyls, and other unsaturated compounds may overlap with dσ orbitals on metal centers. This is the classic ligand HOMO → metal LUMO interaction that we’ve beaten into the ground over the last few posts. Because of this electron donation from the π system to the metal center, coordinated π systems often act electrophilic, even if the starting alkene was nucleophilic (the Wacker oxidation is a classic example; water attacks a palladium-coordinated alkene). The  π → dσ orbital interaction is central to the structure and reactivity of π-system complexes.

Then again, a theme of the last three posts has been the importance of orbital interactions with the opposite sense: metal HOMO → ligand LUMO. Like CO, phosphines, and NHCs, π systems are often subject to important backbonding interactions. We’ll focus on alkenes here, but these same ideas apply to carbonyls, alkynes, and other unsaturated ligands bound through their π clouds. For alkene ligands, the relative importance of “normal” bonding and backbonding is nicely captured by the relative importance of the two resonance structures in the figure below.

Resonance forms of alkene ligands.

Resonance forms of alkene ligands.

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Epic Ligand Survey: Phosphines

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Epic Ligand Survey: PhosphinesThe epic ligand survey continues with tertiary phosphines, PR3. Phosphines are most notable for their remarkable electronic and steric tunability and their “innocence”—they tend to avoid participating directly in organometallic reactions, but have the ability to profoundly modulate the electronic properties of the metal center to which they’re bound. Furthermore, because the energy barrier to umbrella flipping of phosphines is quite high, “chiral-at-phosphorus” ligands can be isolated in enantioenriched form and introduced to metal centers, bringing asymmetry just about as close to the metal as it can get in chiral complexes. Phosphorus NMR is a technique that Just Works (thanks, nature). Soft phosphines match up very well with the soft low-valent transition metals. Electron-poor phosphines are even good π-acids! Need I say more? Let’s explore this fascinating, ubiquitous class of ligands in more detail.

General Properties

Like CO, phosphines are dative, L-type ligands that formally contribute two electrons to the metal center. Unlike CO, most phosphines are not small enough to form more than four bonds to a single metal center (and for large R, the number is even smaller). Steric hindrance becomes a problem when five or more PR3 ligands try to make their way into the space around the metal. An interesting consequence of this fact is that many phosphine-containing complexes do not possess 18 valence electrons. Examples include Pt(PCy3)2, Pd[P(t-Bu)3]2, and [Rh(PPh3)3]+. Doesn’t that just drive you crazy? It drives the complexes crazy as well—and most of these coordinatively unsaturated compounds are wonderful catalysts.

Bridging by phosphines is extremely rare, but ligands containing multiple phosphine donors that bind in an Ln (n > 1) fashion to a single metal center are all over the place. These ligands are called chelating or polydentate to indicate that they latch on to metal centers through multiple binding sites. For entropic reasons, chelating ligands bind to a single metal center at multiple points if possible, instead of attaching to two different metal centers (the aptly named chelate effect). An important characteristic of chelating phosphines is bite angle, defined as the predominant P–M–P angle in known complexes of the ligand. We’ll get into the interesting effects of bite angle later, but for now, we might imagine how “unhappy” a ligand with a preferred bite angle of 120° would be in the square planar geometry. It would much rather prefer to be part of a trigonal bipyramidal complex, for instance.
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