Ab Initio Simulations of Poorly and Well Equilibrated (CH3CN)(n)(-) Cluster Anions: Assigning Experimental Photoelectron Peaks to Surface- Bound Electrons and Solvated Monomer and Dimer Anions

WA Narvaez and BJ Schwartz, JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL CHEMISTRY A, 125, 7685-7693 (2021).

DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpca.1c05855

Excess electrons in liquid acetonitrile are of particular interest because they exist in two different forms in equilibrium: they can be present as traditional solvated electrons in a cavity, and they can form some type of solvated molecular anion. Studies of small acetonitrile cluster anions in the gas phase show two isomers with distinct vertical detachment energies, and it is tempting to presume that the two gas- phase cluster anion isomers are precursors of the two excess electron species present in bulk solution. In this paper, we perform DFT-based ab initio molecular dynamics simulations of acetonitrile cluster anions to understand the electronic species that are present and why they have different binding energies. Using a long-range-corrected density functional that was optimally tuned to describe acetonitrile cluster anion structures, we have theoretically explored the chemistry of (CH3(C)N)(n)(-) cluster anions with sizes n = 5, 7, and 10. Because the temperature of the experimental cluster anions is not known, we performed two sets of simulations that investigated how the way in which the cluster anions are prepared affects the excess electron binding motif: one set of simulations simply attached excess electrons to neutral (CH3CN)(n) clusters, providing little opportunity for the clusters to relax in the presence of the excess electron, while the other set allowed the cluster anions to thermally equilibrate near room temperature. We find that both sets of simulations show three distinct electron binding motifs: electrons can attach to the surface of the cluster (dipole-bound) or be present either as solvated monomer anions, CH3CN-, or as solvated molecular dimer anions, (CH3CN)(2)(-). All three species have higher binding energies at larger cluster sizes. Thermal equilibration strongly favors the formation of the valence-bound molecular anions relative to surface-bound excess electrons, and the dimer anion becomes more stable than the monomer anion and surface-bound species as the cluster size increases. The calculated photoelectron spectra from our simulations in which there was poor thermal equilibration are in good agreement with experiment, suggesting assignment of the two experimental cluster anion isomers as the surface- bound electron and the solvated molecular dimer anion. The simulations also suggest that the shoulder seen experimentally on the low-energy isomer's detachment peak is not part of a vibronic progression but instead results from molecular monomer anions. Nowhere in the size range that we explore do we see evidence for a nonvalence, cavity-bound interior-solvated electron, indicating that this species is likely only accessible at larger sizes with good thermal equilibration.

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