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Vibrational Strong Coupling for Organic Chemistry and Catalysis

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - VSC_CAT (Vibrational Strong Coupling for Organic Chemistry and Catalysis)

Reporting period: 2018-06-01 to 2020-05-31

Light-matter interactions play a key role in human society, whether in the exchange of information or the development of modern technology. When such light-matter interactions become strong enough, they form hybrid light-matter states which lead to fundamental changes in material and chemical properties. A given molecular vibration of a small organic molecule in the liquid phase can be partitioned into two or more energetically distinct states by coupling to the vacuum field, a phenomenon known as vibrational strong coupling (VSC).
The reactivity of organic molecules is intimately intertwined with their molecular vibrations. The ability to selectively alter the energies of specific molecular vibrations therefore has enormous consequences for chemical reactivity. The main goal of this proposal was to explore how VSC can be used to modulate the selectivity of simple organic reactions, to understand which functional groups and reaction mechanisms are most susceptible to VSC, as well as to explore the effect of VSC on catalytic reactions.
Overall, the project has developed VSC as a powerful and versatile tool for molecular sciences. VSC was found to not only change the rate of reactions, but to influence their site selectivity. In particular, it has a significant effect on the stereoselectivity of electrocyclic ring opening reactions. VSC plays a critical role in molecular symmetry, which leads to a larger change in chemical reactivity than would be expected from the energy difference between the two resulting hybrid states, known as the Rabi splitting. These results encourage further study on the chemical reactions in cavities to understand how VSC alters their mechanism and chemical reactivity. During the course of this project, we started a collaboration with a large European chemical company to investigate the industrial applications of this technology.
The proposed work delivered a new physical technique that can be used to modify and probe reaction mechanisms, reaction kinetics and material properties of organic molecules. In the course of achieving those objectives, we have synthesized various organic compounds, and in doing so, improved the efficiency of some organic transformations. VSC has a significant influence on molecular symmetry, which gives us insight into the nature of light-matter interactions. This programme has laid the groundwork for the greater exploitation of light-matter interactions in the field of organic synthesis and catalysis.
The key results of the project have been disseminated using different channels depending on the target audience. For the scientific audience, one manuscript is under preparation and will be published soon in a leading international journal.
The new physical tool based on light matter interactions described in this proposal has the potential for tremendous impact on academia and on industry, as can be demonstrated by the rapidly growing interest in this topic in the academic literature. We are optimistic that the sustainable future of the EU will benefit from the application of VSC in the molecular sciences.