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Durham University

Department of Physics

Staff profile

Publication details for Professor Tom Lancaster

Schoonmaker, R., Lancaster, T. & Clark, S. J. (2018). Quantum mechanical tunneling in the automerization of cyclobutadiene. The Journal of Chemical Physics 148(10): 104109.

Author(s) from Durham


Cyclobutadiene has a four-membered carbon ring with two double bonds, but this highly strained molecular configuration is almost square and, via a coordinated motion, the nuclei quantum mechanically tunnels through the high-energy square state to a configuration equivalent to the initial configuration under a 90° rotation. This results in a square ground state, comprising a superposition of two molecular configurations, that is driven by quantum tunneling. Using a quantum mechanical model, and an effective nuclear potential from density functional theory, we calculate the vibrational energy spectrum and the accompanying wavefunctions. We use the wavefunctions to identify the motions of the molecule and detail how different motions can enhance or suppress the tunneling rate. This is relevant for kinematics of tunneling-driven reactions, and we discuss these implications. We are also able to provide a qualitative account of how the molecule will respond to an external perturbation and how this may enhance or suppress infra-red-active vibrational transitions.