Spontaneous Grafting of Diazonium Salts: Chemical Mechanism on Metallic Surfaces

The spontaneous reaction of diazonium salts on various substrates has been widely employed since it consists of a simple immersion of the substrate in the diazonium salt solution. As electrochemical processes involving the same diazonium salts, the spontaneous grafting is assumed to give covalently poly­(phenylene)-like bonded films. Resistance to solvents and to ultrasonication is commonly accepted as indirect proof of the existence of a covalent bond. However, the most relevant attempts to demonstrate a metal–C interface bond have been obtained by an XPS investigation of spontaneously grafted films on copper. Similarly, our experiments give evidence of such a bond in spontaneously grafted films on nickel substrates in acetonitrile. In the case of gold substrates, the formation of a spontaneous film was unexpected but reported in the literature in parallel to our observations. Even if no interfacial bond was observed, formation of the films was explained by grafting of aryl cations or radicals on the surface arising from dediazoniation, the film growing later by azo coupling, radical addition, or cationic addition on the grafted phenyl layer. Nevertheless, none of these mechanisms fits our experimental results showing the presence of an Au–N bond. In this work, we present a fine spectroscopic analysis of the coatings obtained on gold and nickel substrates that allow us to propose a chemical structure of such films, in particular, their interface with the substrates. After testing the most probable mechanisms, we have concluded in favor of the involvement of two complementary mechanisms which are the direct reaction of diazonium salts with the gold surface that accounts for the observed Au–N interfacial bonds as well as the formation of aryl cations able to graft on the substrate through Au–C linkages.