Chemists at Michigan State University have created the first metal complex containing single, double and triple nitrogen bonds. The discovery occurred during an unplanned detour from a larger project using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to investigate chemical bonding.
While examining chromium complexes to understand how groups on metal centers donate electron-density to the metal, the researchers, who were led by MSU chemistry professor Aaron Odom, deviated from their original plan in order to exploit an unexpected opportunity to create the milestone metal complex.
“We took a brief pathway off of the main road to look at this structure,” Odom said. “It wasn’t one of the original goals, but it was in the neighborhood.”
The complex prepared is the first with a nitride (metal-nitrogen triple bond), imide (metal-nitrogen double bond), and amide (metal-nitrogen single bond) to the same metal center.
“These molecules have apparently captured the imagination because of their unusual structure and reactivity,” Odom said.
The molecules are an excellent example of known bonding and reactivity principles and are being used as part of a larger study on understanding the interplay between ligands (groups on a metal) and the metal center, a question important for understanding the catalytic reactions used to make everything from polymers to pharmaceuticals.