Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Chemistry and Biochemistry


Vernon D. Parker


The central topic of this dissertation is to seek the answer to the question: Is the single transition state model appropriate for (1) the proton transfer reactions of nitroalkanes and (2) the aromatic nucleophilic reactions of trinitroarenes? If not, what are the real mechanisms? This objective has been accomplished by careful kinetic and mechanistic studies which take advantage of modern digital acquisition of absorbance - time data, combined with extensive new data analysis of results from pseudo-first-order kinetic measurements.

Several new analysis procedures for pseudo-first-order kinetics that are capable of distinguishing between single-step and multi-step mechanisms have been introduced and intensively confirmed during the application in the kinetic study of the target reactions. The procedures include (1) half-life dependence of apparent rate constant, (2) sequential linear pseudo-first-order correlation, (3) approximate instantaneous rate constant analysis, and (4) time-dependent apparent kinetic isotope effects.

Various conventional and nonconventional pseudo-first-order kinetic analyses of the reactions of nitroalkanes in aqueous solutions revealed that the reactions are complex and involve kinetically significant intermediates. The spectral evidence for the formation of reactive intermediates was obtained by carrying out the kinetic experiments at the isosbestic points where changes in reactant and product absorbance cancel. The apparent deuterium kinetic isotope effects studies indicated that the deuterium kinetic isotope effects are not associated with the formation of the intermediates. The observations of anomalous Brønsted exponents previously found for this reaction series could be rationalized well with the complex mechanisms proposed in this work, which indicate that the nitroalkane anomaly does not exist, but arises from an interpretation based upon the incorrect assumption that the reactions follow a simple one-step mechanism.

Simulations revealed that the generally accepted competitive mechanism was not appropriate to describe the Meisenheimer complex formation during the reaction of 2,4,6-trinitroanisole with methoxide ion in methanol. This conclusion is supported by the conventional pseudo-first-order kinetic analysis. A reversible consecutive mechanism that accounts for the kinetic behavior has been proposed, which involves an intermediate dianion complex that is formed reversibly from the initial 1,3-σ-complex, and then eliminates methoxide ion to form the 1,1-σ-complex product.


This work made publicly available electronically on December 21, 2012.