The formic acid-nitric acid complex: Microwave spectrum, structure, and proton transfer

Rebecca B Mackenzie, Christopher T. Dewberry, Kenneth R Leopold

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22 Scopus citations


Rotational spectra are reported for seven isotopologues of the complex HCOOH-HNO3 in a supersonic jet. The system is planar and bound by a pair of hydrogen bonds, much like the more widely studied carboxylic acid dimers. Double proton exchange interconverts the system between a pair of equivalent structures, as revealed by a splitting of the a-type spectrum that disappears when one of the hydrogen bonding protons is replaced by deuterium. The observation of relative intensities that are consistent with nuclear spin statistics in a symmetric and antisymmetric pair of tunneling states provides additional evidence for such a motion. The observed splittings in the pure rotational spectrum are 1-2 orders of magnitude smaller than those recently reported in the pure rotational spectra of several related carboxylic acid dimers. This is a curious difference, although we note that because the observed spectra do not cross the tunneling doublet, the splittings are a measure of the difference in effective rotational constants for the two states, not the tunneling frequency itself. The observed rotational constants have been used to determine an accurate vibrationally averaged structure for the complex. The two hydrogen bond lengths, 1.686(17) Å and 1.813(10) Å for the hydrogen bonds involving the HNO3 and HCOOH protons, respectively, differ by 0.127(27) Å. Likewise, the associated oxygen-oxygen distances determined for the parent species, 2.631 and 2.794 Å, differ by 0.163 Å. These results suggest that the double proton transfer is necessarily accompanied by substantial motion of the heavy atom frame, and thus this system, in principle, provides an excellent prototype for multidimensional tunneling processes. Ab initio calculations of the binding energy and the barrier height are presented. Excellent agreement between the calculated equilibrium structure and the experimental, vibrationally averaged structure suggests that the vibrational wave function is not highly delocalized in the region between the equivalent potential wells. 14N nuclear quadrupole hyperfine structure is interpreted in terms of the degree to which the HNO3 releases its proton in either of the equivalent potential energy minima.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7975-7985
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry A
Issue number36
StatePublished - Aug 12 2014

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© 2014 American Chemical Society.


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