Letters to Nature

Nature 412, 626-628 (9 August 2001) | doi:10.1038/35088038; Received 5 March 2001; Accepted 4 June 2001

Generation and characterization of a fairly stable triplet carbene

Hideo Tomioka, Eri Iwamoto, Hidetaka Itakura & Katsuyuki Hirai

  1. Chemistry Department for Materials, Faculty of Engineering, Mie University, Tsu, Mie 514-8507, Japan

Correspondence to: Hideo Tomioka Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to H.T. (e-mail: Email: tomioka@chem.mie-u.ac.jp).

Most molecules are held together by covalent bonds—electron pairs jointly shared by the two atoms that are linked by the bond. Free radicals, in contrast, have at least one unpaired electron. In the case of carbon-based radicals, the carbon atom at the radical centre no longer makes four bonds with other atoms as it would do in its normal, tetravalent state. The presence of unpaired electrons renders such radicals highly reactive, so they normally occur only as transient intermediates during chemical reactions. But the discovery1, 2 by Gomberg in 1900 of triphenylmethyl, the first relatively stable free radical containing a central trivalent carbon atom, illustrated that radicals with suitable geometrical and electronic structures can be stable. Compounds containing a divalent carbon atom that uses only two of its four valence electrons for bonding are usually less stable than Gomberg-type radicals with trivalent carbon3, 4, 5. Although the role of these so-called carbenes in chemical reactions has long been postulated, they were unambiguously identified only in the 1950s. More recently, stable carbenes have been prepared6, 7, but the singlet state of these molecules6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, with the two nonbonding valence electrons paired, means that they are not radicals. Carbenes in the second possible electronic state, the triplet state, are radicals: the two nonbonding electrons have parallel spins and occupy different orbitals13, 14. Here we report the preparation and characterization of a triplet carbene, whose half-life of 19 minutes at room temperature shows it to be significantly more stable than previously observed triplet carbenes15, 16, 17.