Ionic liquid effects on nucleophilic aromatic substitution reactions from QM/MM simulations

Caley Allen, Billy W. McCann, Orlando Acevedo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Nucleophilic aromatic substitution (SNAr) reactions are particularly sensitive to medium effects and have been reported to benefit from ionic liquids. The SNAr reaction between cyclic secondary amines (i.e., piperidine, pyrrolidine, and morpholine) and the 2-L-5-nitrothiophene (para-like) and 2-L-3-nitrothiophene (ortho-like) isomers, where L = bromo, methoxy, phenoxy, and 4-nitrophenoxy, has been computationally investigated in 1-butyl-3-methylimidazolium tetrafluoroborate and hexafluorophosphate [BMIM][BF4] and [BMIM][PF6], respectively. QM/MM Monte Carlo simulations utilizing free-energy perturbation theory were used to characterize the solute-solvent interactions over the addition-elimination reaction pathway. Energetic and structural analyses determined that the improved SNAr reactivity in [BMIM][BF4] and [BMIM][PF6] can be attributed to (1) an enhanced nucleophilicity of the cyclic amines in the ionic liquids with an order of Pyr ≥ Pip > Mor, (2) beneficial +- interactions between the BMIM cations and the aromatic rings present on the substrate that enhanced coplanarity between the thiophene ring and the aromatic substituents, resulting in a larger positive charge on the reacting ipso carbon, and (3) a highly ordered ionic liquid clathrate formation that, despite an entropy penalty, provided reduced activation free-energy barriers derived from an increasing number of solvent ions favorably interacting with the emerging charge separation at the rate-limiting addition step.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)743-752
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry B
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 22 2015
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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