Isonitrile as an Ultrasensitive Infrared Reporter of Hydrogen-Bonding Structure and Dynamics

Michał Maj, Changwoo Ahn, Bartosz Błasiak, Kyungwon Kwak, Hogyu Han, Minhaeng Cho

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


Infrared (IR) probes based on terminally blocked β-isocyanoalanine (AlaNC) and p-isocyanophenylalanine (PheNC) amino acids were synthesized. These isonitrile (NC)-derivatized compounds were extensively characterized by FTIR and femtosecond IR pump-probe spectroscopies, and a direct comparison was made with popularly used nitrile (CN)- and azide (N3)-derivatized analogs. It is shown that the isonitrile stretch frequency exhibits extremely high sensitivity to hydrogen-bonding interactions. In addition, the IR intensity of the isonitrile group is much higher than that of the nitrile group and almost as intense as that of the azido group. Furthermore, its vibrational lifetime is much longer than that of the nitrile and azido groups. To elucidate the origin of such a high H-bond sensitivity and IR intensity observed for isonitrile, extensive quantum chemical calculations were performed. It is shown that the Coulombic contributions to the vibrational frequency shifts of the isonitrile and nitrile stretch modes have opposite signs but similar magnitudes, whereas the contributions of exchange repulsion and charge delocalization to their frequency shifts are comparable. Therefore, the isonitrile stretch frequency is much more sensitive to H-bonding interactions because the blue-shifting exchange-repulsion effects are additionally enforced by such electrostatic effects. It is also shown that the much higher IR intensity of the isonitrile group compared to that of the nitrile group is due to the configuration reversal of the atomic electronegativity between the NC and CN groups. Owing to these features, we believe that isonitrile is a much better IR reporter of H-bonding structure and dynamics than the widely used nitrile and azide.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10167-10180
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry B
Issue number39
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Oct 6

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Surfaces, Coatings and Films
  • Materials Chemistry


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