Exploring short intramolecular interactions in alkylaromatic substrates
From proteins and peptides to semiconducting polymers, aliphatic chains on aromatic groups are recurring motifs in macromolecules from very diverse application fields. Fields in which molecular folding and packing determine the macroscopic physical properties that make such advanced materials appealing in the first place. Within each macromolecule, the intrinsic structure of each unit defines how it interacts with its neighbours, ultimately opening up or denying certain backbone conformations. This eventually also determines how macromolecules interact with each other. This account deals specifically with the conformational problem of many common alkylaromatic units, examining the features of an intramolecular interaction involving a side chain with as few as three methylene groups. A set of 23 model compounds featuring an intramolecular interaction between an aliphatic X–H (X = C, N, O, and S) bond and an aromatic ring was considered. Quantitative computational analysis was made possible, thanks to complete basis set extrapolated CCSD(T) calculations and NCI topological analysis, the latter of which revealed an elaborate network of dispersive and steric interactions leading to somewhat unintuitive and unexpected results, such as the higher energetic stability of certain twisted conformational isomers over those with extended side chains. Vicinal covalent effects from polarizing groups and various heteroatoms, along with the occurrence of non-dispersive phenomena, were also investigated. The conclusions drawn from the investigation include a comprehensive set of guidelines intended to aid in the prediction of the most stable conformation for this class of building blocks. Our findings affect a variety of different research fields, including the tailoring of functional materials for organic electronics and photovoltaics, with insights into a rational treatment of conformational disorder, and the study of protein- and peptide-folding preferences, putting an emphasis on peculiar interactions between the backbone and aromatic residues.