Catching the devil

The prestigious journal Nature Chemistry just published an article on the recent achievement of a group of chemists of the University of Girona. It explains how they have managed to generate, detect and study Fe(V). The article will appear in the next magazine’s issue, although it is already available in its online version.

Iron is the favorite metal for living systems to make possible many of the reactions that triggers of life such as respiration, synthesis of essential substances, the destruction of toxic substances, energy production, or fixing of atmospheric N2. Also, iron is the “perfect” metal for modern sustainable chemistry as it is not toxic. To make many of these reactions possible, iron is the only authority to develop extremely reactive species.

One of these species is known as Fe(V), whose iron atom has lost 5 electrons and is extremely reactive to recover these electrons. For example, Fe(V) produces a chemical reaction degrading persistent pollutants –such as polycyclic aromatic constituents of oil–, a unique reaction that, therefore, has raised a big interest for chemical research and modern biotechnology.

The observation of Fe(V) is one of the Holy Grails of chemistry. Due to their reactivity, it has generally been accepted that these species have very short lifetimes and, so, are rarely observed. These species are some kind of true demiurges that make possible reactions that would not be possible and that, systematically, are really hard to observe.


Successful work

This problem has been studied in a recent work of a research team composed of doctoral student Irene Prado, and the doctors Xavi Ribas and Miquel Costas. All of them belong to the Bioinorganic and Supramolecular Chemistry (QBIS) research group, from the Department of Chemistry of the University of Girona (UdG). The research has been able to generate, detect and study Fe(V), thanks to the collaboration of doctors Mireia Güell and Jose Maria Luis, of Institute of Computational Chemistry of the Department of Chemistry (UdG), and Dr. Jennifer Mathiesson and Professor Lee Cronin of the University of Glasgow.

To achieve its goal, the team of Girona designed a complex container system, extremely resistant to chemical degradation. Researchers worked at very low temperatures to stabilize the compound, they used isotope marking to identify it, and have validated its existence and chemistry with computational tools.


Precise tools

The collaboration with the University of Glasgow allowed the researchers to use characterization tools of high sensitivity, operating at very low temperatures. The result was the detection of Fe(V), its characterization and the observation that these species are involved in similar reactions to those found in the natural degradation of hydrocarbons.

The article, entitled “Observation of Fe(V)=O using variable temperature mass spectrometry and its enzyme-like C–H and C=C oxidation reactions” was recently published on the online version of the journal Nature Chemistry, that belongs to the prestigious editing group Nature. The article will also appear in the next issue of the magazine. This work is part of an excellence project (ERC Starting Grant) of the European Union and is funded by the Ministry of Education and Science of Spain as well as the ICREA Academy program of the Generalitat of Catalonia.

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