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  1. Abstract

    The Strecker Synthesis of (a)chiral α-amino acids from simple organic compounds, such as ammonia (NH3), aldehydes (RCHO), and hydrogen cyanide (HCN) has been recognized as a viable route to amino acids on primordial earth. However, preparation and isolation of the simplest hemiaminal intermediate – the aminomethanol (NH2CH2OH)– formed in the Strecker Synthesis to even the simplest amino acid glycine (H2NCH2COOH) has been elusive. Here, we report the identification of aminomethanol prepared in low-temperature methylamine (CH3NH2) – oxygen (O2) ices upon exposure to energetic electrons. Isomer-selective photoionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry (PI-ReTOF-MS) facilitated the gas phase detection of aminomethanol during the temperature program desorption (TPD) phase of the reaction products. The preparation and observation of the key transient aminomethanol changes our perception of the synthetic pathways to amino acids and the unexpected kinetic stability in extreme environments.

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  2. Abstract

    Polyhedral nitrogen containing molecules such as prismatic P3N3- a hitherto elusive isovalent species of prismane (C6H6) - have attracted particular attention from the theoretical, physical, and synthetic chemistry communities. Here we report on the preparation of prismatic P3N3[1,2,3-triaza-4,5,6-triphosphatetracyclo[,6.03,5]hexane] by exposing phosphine (PH3) and nitrogen (N2) ice mixtures to energetic electrons. Prismatic P3N3was detected in the gas phase and discriminated from its isomers utilizing isomer selective, tunable soft photoionization reflectron time-of-flight mass spectrometry during sublimation of the ices along with an isomer-selective photochemical processing converting prismatic P3N3to 1,2,4-triaza-3,5,6-triphosphabicyclo[2.2.0]hexa-2,5-diene (P3N3). In prismatic P3N3, the P–P, P–N, and N–N bonds are lengthened compared to those in, e.g., diphosphine (P2H4), di-anthracene stabilized phosphorus mononitride (PN), and hydrazine (N2H4), by typically 0.03–0.10 Å.  These findings advance our fundamental understanding of the chemical bonding of poly-nitrogen and poly-phosphorus systems and reveal a versatile pathway to produce exotic, ring-strained cage molecules.

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  3. Abstract

    Owing to the unique conditions in cold molecular clouds, enols—the thermodynamically less stable tautomers of aldehydes and ketones—do not undergo tautomerization to their more stable tautomers in the gas phase because they cannot overcome tautomerization barriers at the low temperatures. Laboratory studies of interstellar analog ices have demonstrated the formation of several keto–enol tautomer pairs in astrochemically relevant ice mixtures over the last years. However, so far only one of them, acetaldehyde−vinyl alcohol, has been detected in deep space. Due to their reactivity with electrophiles, enols can play a crucial role in our understanding of the molecular complexity in the interstellar medium and in comets and meteorites. To study the enolization of aldehydes in interstellar ices by interaction with galactic cosmic rays (GCRs), we irradiated acetaldehyde ices with energetic electrons as proxies of secondary electrons generated in the track of GCRs while penetrating interstellar ices. The results indicate that GCRs can induce enolization of acetaldehyde and that intra‐ as well as intermolecular processes are relevant. Therefore, enols should be ubiquitous in the interstellar medium and could be searched for using radio telescopes such as ALMA. Once enols are detected and abundances are established, they can serve as tracers for the non‐equilibrium chemistry in interstellar ices thus eventually constraining fundamental reaction mechanisms deep inside interstellar ices.

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  4. Abstract

    Ices of acetylene (C2H2) and ammonia (NH3) were irradiated with energetic electrons to simulate interstellar ices processed by galactic cosmic rays in order to investigate the formation of C2H3N isomers. Supported by quantum chemical calculations, experiments detected product molecules as they sublime from the ices using photoionization reflectron time‐of‐flight mass spectrometry (PI‐ReTOF‐MS). Isotopically‐labeled ices confirmed the C2H3N assignments while photon energies of 8.81 eV, 9.80 eV, and 10.49 eV were utilized to discriminate isomers based on their known ionization energies. Results indicate the formation of ethynamine (HCCNH2) and 2H‐azirine (c‐H2CCHN) in the irradiated C2H2:NH3ices, and the energetics of their formation mechanisms are discussed. These findings suggest that these two isomers can form in interstellar ices and, upon sublimation during the hot core phase, could be detected using radio astronomy.

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  5. NASA's New Horizons mission unveiled a diverse landscape of Pluto's surface with massive regions being neutral in color, while others like Cthulhu Macula range from golden-yellow to reddish comprising up to half of Pluto's carbon budget. Here, we demonstrate in laboratory experiments merged with electronic structure calculations that the photolysis of solid acetylene – the most abundant precipitate on Pluto's surface – by low energy ultraviolet photons efficiently synthesizes benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons via excited state photochemistry thus providing critical molecular building blocks for the colored surface material. Since low energy photons deliver doses to Pluto's surface exceeding those from cosmic rays by six orders of magnitude, these processes may significantly contribute to the coloration of Pluto's surface and of hydrocarbon-covered surfaces of Solar System bodies such as Triton in general. This discovery critically enhances our perception of the distribution of aromatic molecules and carbon throughout our Solar System. 
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  6. Geminal diols—organic molecules carrying two hydroxyl groups at the same carbon atom—have been recognized as key reactive intermediates by the physical (organic) chemistry and atmospheric science communities as fundamental transients in the aerosol cycle and in the atmospheric ozonolysis reaction sequence. Anticipating short lifetimes and their tendency to fragment to water plus the aldehyde or ketone, free geminal diols represent one of the most elusive classes of organic reactive intermediates. Here, we afford an exceptional glance into the preparation of the previously elusive methanediol [CH 2 (OH) 2 ] transient—the simplest geminal diol—via energetic processing of low-temperature methanol–oxygen ices. Methanediol was identified in the gas phase upon sublimation via isomer-selective photoionization reflectron time-of-flight mass spectrometry combined with isotopic substitution studies. Electronic structure calculations reveal that methanediol is formed via excited state dynamics through insertion of electronically excited atomic oxygen into a carbon–hydrogen bond of the methyl group of methanol followed by stabilization in the icy matrix. The first preparation and detection of methanediol demonstrates its gas-phase stability as supported by a significant barrier hindering unimolecular decomposition to formaldehyde and water. These findings advance our perception of the fundamental chemistry and chemical bonding of geminal diols and signify their role as an efficient sink of aldehydes and ketones in atmospheric environments eventually coupling the atmospheric chemistry of geminal diols and Criegee intermediates. 
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