1992 Merck–Frosst Award Lecture Orbital symmetry and the photochemistry of cyclobutene Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • Direct photolysis of alkyl-substituted cyclobutene derivatives in solution with monochromatic far-UV light sources results in competing ring opening to the corresponding substituted 1,3-butadiene derivatives and fragmentation to the corresponding alkene and alkyne via formal [2 + 2] cycloreversion. The excited states leading to the two types of products have been identified. Cycloreversion occurs stereospecifically and arises as a result of excitation of the π,R(3s) Rydberg state, which is of comparable energy to the π,π* state in alkylcyclobutenes. In spite of its stereospecificity, the reaction is nonconcerted; evidence is presented to suggest that it occurs by a mechanism involving [1,2] migration (ring contraction) to yield a cyclopropylcarbene intermediate, which then fragments to yield the alkyne and alkene. The stereochemistry at C3 and C4 in the starting cyclobutene is retained in the alkene produced in the reaction. Ring opening proceeds nonstereoselectively (from the π,π* singlet state) in well over a dozen systems that have been investigated, and possible mechanisms to account for this are discussed. It is proposed that orbital symmetry plays a role in the reaction, but only in the early stages of ring opening. Bicyclic cyclobutene derivatives in which the cyclobutene double bond is located across the [0] bridge undergo ring opening with a high degree of disrotatory stereoselectivity. Possible reasons for this unusual behavior are discussed in light of recent ab initio theoretical results.

publication date

  • February 1, 1993