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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 1, 2024
  2. One of the ultimate goals of chemistry is to understand and manipulate chemical reactions, which implies the ability to monitor the reaction and its underlying mechanism at an atomic scale. In this article, we introduce the Unified Reaction Valley Approach (URVA) as a tool for elucidating reaction mechanisms, complementing existing computational procedures. URVA combines the concept of the potential energy surface with vibrational spectroscopy and describes a chemical reaction via the reaction path and the surrounding reaction valley traced out by the reacting species on the potential energy surface on their way from the entrance to the exit channel, where the products are located. The key feature of URVA is the focus on the curving of the reaction path. Moving along the reaction path, any electronic structure change of the reacting species is registered by a change in the normal vibrational modes spanning the reaction valley and their coupling with the path, which recovers the curvature of the reaction path. This leads to a unique curvature profile for each chemical reaction, with curvature minima reflecting minimal change and curvature maxima indicating the location of important chemical events such as bond breaking/formation, charge polarization and transfer, rehybridization, etc. A decomposition of the path curvature into internal coordinate components or other coordinates of relevance for the reaction under consideration, provides comprehensive insight into the origin of the chemical changes taking place. After giving an overview of current experimental and computational efforts to gain insight into the mechanism of a chemical reaction and presenting the theoretical background of URVA, we illustrate how URVA works for three diverse processes, (i) [1,3] hydrogen transfer reactions; (ii) α-keto-amino inhibitor for SARS-CoV-2 M pro ; (iii) Rh-catalyzed cyanation. We hope that this article will inspire our computational colleagues to add URVA to their repertoire and will serve as an incubator for new reaction mechanisms to be studied in collaboration with our experimental experts in the field. 
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  3. Hydrogen bonds (HB)s are the most abundant motifs in biological systems. They play a key role in determining protein–ligand binding affinity and selectivity. We designed two pharmaceutically beneficial HB databases, database A including ca. 12,000 protein–ligand complexes with ca. 22,000 HBs and their geometries, and database B including ca. 400 protein–ligand complexes with ca. 2200 HBs, their geometries, and bond strengths determined via our local vibrational mode analysis. We identified seven major HB patterns, which can be utilized as a de novo QSAR model to predict the binding affinity for a specific protein–ligand complex. Glycine was reported as the most abundant amino acid residue in both donor and acceptor profiles, and N–H⋯O was the most frequent HB type found in database A. HBs were preferred to be in the linear range, and linear HBs were identified as the strongest. HBs with HB angles in the range of 100–110°, typically forming intramolecular five-membered ring structures, showed good hydrophobic properties and membrane permeability. Utilizing database B, we found a generalized Badger’s relationship for more than 2200 protein–ligand HBs. In addition, the strength and occurrence maps between each amino acid residue and ligand functional groups open an attractive possibility for a novel drug-design approach and for determining drug selectivity and affinity, and they can also serve as an important tool for the hit-to-lead process. 
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  4. We introduce in this work a unique parameter for the quantitative assessment of the intrinsic strength of the π interaction between two monomers forming a complex. The new parameter is a local intermonomer stretching force constant, based on the local mode theory, originally developed by Konkoli and Cremer, and derived from the set of nine possible intermonomer normal vibrational modes. The new local force constant was applied to a diverse set of more than 70 molecular complexes, which was divided into four groups. Group 1 includes atoms, ions, and small molecules interacting with benzene and substituted benzenes. Group 2 includes transition metal hydrides and oxides interacting with benzene while Group 3 involves ferrocenes, chromocenes, and titanium sandwich compounds. Group 4 presents an extension to oxygen π–hole interactions in comparison with in-plane hydrogen bonding. We found that the strength of the π interactions in these diverse molecular complexes can vary from weak interactions with predominantly electrostatic character, found, e.g., for argon–benzene complexes, to strong interactions with a substantial covalent nature, found, e.g., for ferrocenes; all being seamlessly described and compared with the new intermonomer local mode force constant, which also outperforms other descriptors such as an averaged force constant or a force constant guided by the electron density bond paths. We hope that our findings will inspire the community to apply the new parameter also to other intermonomer π interactions, enriching in this way the broad field of organometallic chemistry with a new efficient assessment tool. 
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  5. In this work, we analyzed five groups of different dihydrogen bonding interactions and hydrogen clusters with an H3+ kernel utilizing the local vibrational mode theory, developed by our group, complemented with the Quantum Theory of Atoms–in–Molecules analysis to assess the strength and nature of the dihydrogen bonds in these systems. We could show that the intrinsic strength of the dihydrogen bonds investigated is primarily related to the protonic bond as opposed to the hydridic bond; thus, this should be the region of focus when designing dihydrogen bonded complexes with a particular strength. We could also show that the popular discussion of the blue/red shifts of dihydrogen bonding based on the normal mode frequencies is hampered from mode–mode coupling and that a blue/red shift discussion based on local mode frequencies is more meaningful. Based on the bond analysis of the H3+(H2)n systems, we conclude that the bond strength in these crystal–like structures makes them interesting for potential hydrogen storage applications. 
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  6. The catalytic effects of iridium pincer complexes for the hydrogenation of carbon dioxide were investigated with the Unified Reaction Valley Approach (URVA), exploring the reaction mechanism along the reaction path traced out by the reacting species on the potential energy surface. Further details were obtained with the Local Mode Analysis performed at all stationary points, complemented by the Natural Bond Orbital and Bader’s Quantum Atoms in Molecules analyses. Each of the five reaction paths forming the catalytic cycle were calculated at the DFT level complemented with DLPNO-CCSD(T) single point calculations at the stationary points. For comparison, the non-catalytic reaction was also investigated. URVA curvature profiles identified all important chemical events taking place in the non-catalyzed reaction and in the five reactions forming the catalytic cycle, and their contribution to the activation energy was disclosed. The non-catalytic reaction has a large unfavorable activation energy of 76.3 kcal/mol, predominately caused by HH bond cleave in the H2 reactant. As shown by our study, the main function of the iridium pincer catalyst is to split up the one–step non-catalytic reaction into an energy efficient multistep cycle, where HH bond cleavage is replaced by the cleavage of a weaker IrH bond with a small contribution to the activation energy. The dissociation of the final product from the catalyst requires the cleavage of an IrO bond, which is also weak, and contributes only to a minor extent to the activation energy. This, in summary, leads to the substantial lowering of the overall activation barrier by about 50 kcal/mol for the catalyzed reaction. We hope that this study inspires the community to add URVA to their repertoire for the investigation of catalysis reactions. 
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