A better understanding of the chemistry of molecular precursors is useful in achieving more predictable and reproducible nanocrystal preparations. Recently, an efficient approach was introduced that consists of fine-tuning the chemical reactivity of the synthetic molecular precursors used, while keeping all other reaction conditions constant. Using nickel phosphides as a research platform, we have studied how the chemical structure and reactivity of a family of commercially available organophosphite precursors (P(OR)3, R = alkyl or aryl) alter the preparation of metallic and metal phosphide nanocrystals. Organophosphites are a versatile addition to the pnictide synthetic toolbox, nicely complementing other available precursors such as elemental phosphorus or trioctylphosphine (TOP). Experimental and computational data show that different organophosphite precursors selectively yield Ni, Ni12P5, and Ni2P and that these phases evolve over time through separate mechanistic pathways. Based on our observations, we propose that nickel phosphide formation requires organophosphite coordination to a nickel precursor, followed by intramolecular rearrangement. We also propose that metallic nickel formation involves outer sphere reduction by uncoordinated organophosphite. These two independent pathways are supported by the fact that preformed Ni nanocrystals do not react with some of the most reactive phosphide-forming organophosphites, failing to evolve into nickel phosphide nanocrystals. Overall, the rate at which organophosphites react with nickel(II) chloride or acetate to form nickel phosphides increases in the order P(OMe)3 < P(OEt)3 < P(OnBu)3 < P(OCH2tBu)3 < P(OiPr)3 < P(OPh)3. Some organophosphites, such as P(OMe)3 or P(OiPr)3, transiently form zerovalent, metallic nickel, while this is the only persistent product observed with the bulky organophosphite P(O-2,4-tBu2C6H4)3. We expect that these results will alleviate the need for time-consuming testing and random optimization of several different reaction conditions, thus enabling a faster development of these and similar pnictide nanomaterials for practical applications.
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© 2015 American Chemical Society.