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Covalent d-Block Organometallics: Teaching Lewis Structures and sd/sd2 Hybridization Gives Students Additional Explanations and Powerful Predictive Tools

submitted on 16.03.2021, 19:42 and posted on 17.03.2021, 12:57 by Ulrich Fekl
Despite tremendous efforts by instructors and textbook authors, students find it difficult to develop useful chemical intuitions about preferred structures, structural trends, and properties of even the most common d-block element organometallic species, that is d6, d8, and d10 systems. A full molecular orbital analysis of a transition metal species is not always feasible or desirable, and crystal field theory, while generally useful, is often too simplistic and limited. It would be helpful to give students of organometallic chemistry an additional toolkit that helps them to understand d-block compounds, in particular highly covalent ones. It is well known in the research literature in organometallic chemistry that hybridization arguments involving s and d orbitals (such as sd and sd2 hybridization for d8 and d6 systems, respectively) provides useful insight. However, this knowledge is much underused in undergraduate teaching and not taught in undergraduate textbooks. The purpose of this article is to make descriptions of bonding that are based on s,d-hybridized orbitals more accessible in a way that is directly useful for undergraduate teaching. Geometries of unusual low-coordinate structures can be successfully predicted. An in-depth physical explanation for the trans-influence, the weakening of a bond due to a strong bond trans to it, is provided. A clear explanation is given for why the cis isomer normally more stable than the trans isomer in square-planar d8 complexes of the type MR2L2 (R = alkyl/aryl, L = relatively weakly bonded neutral ligand). Similarly, the relative stability of fac versus mer isomers in octahedral d6 complexes of the type MR3L3 is explained. Relevant to catalysis, the method explains why strongly donating ligands do not always facilitate oxidative addition and why 12-electron and 14-electron Pd(0) species are thermodynamically much more accessible than one might expect. The method capitalizes on 1st year knowledge such as the ability to write Lewis structures and to use hybridization arguments. It also ties into the upper-year experience, including graduate school, where covalent d-block complexes may be encountered in research and where the hybridization schemes described here naturally emerge from using the NBO formalism. It is discussed where the method might fit into the inorganic curriculum.


Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council

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University of Toronto



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Declaration of Conflict of Interest

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Version Notes

March 16, 2021