Quantum Mechanical Study of N-Heterocyclic Carbene Adsorption on Au Surfaces

Kuan Chang, Jingguang G. Chen, Qi Lu, Mu Jeng Cheng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


There is increasing interest in using N-heterocyclic carbenes (NHCs) as surface ligands to stabilize transition-metal nanoparticles (NPs) and to replace thiols for the preparation of self-assembled monolayers (SAMs) on gold surfaces. This type of surface decoration is advantageous because it leads to improved catalytic activity of NPs and increased stability of SAM, as shown by recent experiments. In this work, we used quantum mechanics combined with periodic surface models to study the adsorption of NHCs on the Au(111) surface. We found that NHCs prefer to bind to the top site with adsorption energies (ΔEs) varying from 1.69 to 2.34 eV, depending on the type of NHC, and the inclusion of solvents in the calculations leads to insignificant variation in the calculated ΔEs. Three types of NHCs were found to bind to Au(111) more tightly and therefore should be better stabilizers than those commonly used. Importantly, by analyzing electronic structures using the Bader charge and energy decomposition analysis, we find that during adsorption NHC acts as an electron donor, transferring its electron density from the lone pair orbital at the carbene center to the empty d orbital of Au with negligible π-back-donation. This binding pattern is very different from that of CO, a ligand commonly used in organometallics, where both interactions are equally important. This leads to the identification of the protonation energies of NHCs as a descriptor for predicting ΔEs, providing a convenient method for computational high-throughput screening for better NHC-type surface ligands.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2674-2682
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry A
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Apr 6

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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