Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Chemistry (MS)

Degree Level



Chemistry & Biochemistry


Peter Pulay

Committee Member

Jim Hinton

Second Committee Member

Ingrid Fritsch

Third Committee Member

Colin Heyes


The energy barriers for SN2 ligand exchange reactions between the chloride anion and para-substituted benzyl chlorides were investigated both in water solution and in the gas phase by using quantum chemical simulations at the DFT and Hartree-Fock levels. The question addressed was the effect of the solvent (water) and of the substituent on the barrier height. The para substitutient groups included NH2, OH, OCH3, CH3, C(CH3)3, H, F, Cl, Br, I, CF3, CN, NO2, and SO3- . The calculations in aqueous solution were carried out with the recently developed Ultrafast Monte Carlo method using the TIP3P explicit water model. The PQS program system was used for all calculations. The minimum energy reaction path was determined in the gas phase for each exchange reaction by optimizating all geometry parameters except the reaction coordinate which was defined as the difference of the C-Cl distances for the approaching and leaving chlorine atoms and the reaction center (the central carbon atom). This difference was varied in small steps from -11.0 a0 to +11.0 a0 (about -5 to 5 Å). These reaction paths were used in Monte Carlo simulations to determine the energy barriers in aqueous solution.

The behavior of SN2 reactions in the water solution is different from the gas phase, particularly for substituents with high Hammett constants. These substituents make the central carbon atom more positively charged, resulting in shorter C-Cl distances at the transition state, and therefore less efficient screening of the atomic charges by the polar water molecules.

Solvation alone is expected to increase reaction barriers because the solvation shells have to be partially broken up. However, solvation by polar solvents like water (which have high dielectric constants) greatly diminishes the energy required for ion pair separation. If the barrier is dominated by ion pair separation, as in the chloride exchange reaction of para-SO3- benzyl chloride, then solvation diminishes the barrier and increases the reaction rate.