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Aqueous Microdroplets Capture Elusive Carbocations

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journal contribution
posted on 2021-02-03, 20:44 authored by Anubhav Kumar, Supratim Mondal, Shibdas Banerjee
Carbocations are short-lived reactive intermediates in many organic and biological reactions that are difficult to observe. This field sprung to life with the discovery by Olah that a superacidic solution allowed the successful capture and nuclear magnetic resonance characterization of transient carbocations. We report here that water microdroplets can directly capture the fleeting carbocation from a reaction aliquot followed by its desorption to the gas phase for mass spectrometric detection. This was accomplished by employing desorption electrospray ionization mass spectrometry to detect a variety of short-lived carbocations (average lifetime ranges from nanoseconds to picoseconds) obtained from different reactions (e.g., elimination, substitution, and oxidation). Solvent-dependent studies revealed that aqueous microdroplets outperform organic microdroplets in the capture of carbocations. We provide a mechanistic insight demonstrating the survival of the reactive carbocation in a positively charged aqueous microdroplet and its subsequent ejection to the gas phase for mass spectrometric analysis.