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Rhodium complexes functionalized by N-heterocyclic carbene ligands react with dioxygen to form adducts. Depending on the specifics of the ancillary ligands, oxygen binds to Rh either as a peroxide to form a fully oxidized Rh(III) complex, or as singlet dioxygen in a Rh(I) square planar complex. We have shown through analysis of a series of compounds, some previously published and some novel, that the presence of additional ligands that would support the formation of an octahedral geometry, as typically found with Rh(III) complexes, is critical for formation of the peroxide. In addition, we have demonstrated through DFT studies, that the potential energy surface with regard to the O–O bond length is relatively shallow, which provides a rationale for the distribution of bond lengths observed for apparently similar complexes analyzed by crystallography.
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