Electric field–induced selective catalysis of single-molecule reaction

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Science Advances  21 Jun 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 6, eaaw3072
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw3072


Oriented external electric fields (OEEFs) offer a unique chance to tune catalytic selectivity by orienting the alignment of the electric field along the axis of the activated bond for a specific chemical reaction; however, they remain a key experimental challenge. Here, we experimentally and theoretically investigated the OEEF-induced selective catalysis in a two-step cascade reaction of the Diels-Alder addition followed by an aromatization process. Characterized by the mechanically controllable break junction (MCBJ) technique in the nanogap and confirmed by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) in bottles, OEEFs are found to selectively catalyze the aromatization reaction by one order of magnitude owing to the alignment of the electric field on the reaction axis. Meanwhile, the Diels-Alder reaction remained unchanged since its reaction axis is orthogonal to the electric fields. This orientation-selective catalytic effect of OEEFs reveals that chemical reactions can be selectively manipulated through the elegant alignment between the electric fields and the reaction axis.

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