The reaction of Ni atoms with molecular oxygen has been reinvestigated experimentally in neon matrices and theoretically at the DFT PW91PW91/6311G(3df) level. Experimental results show that i) the nature of the ground electronic state of the superoxide metastable product is the same in neon and argon matrices, ii) two different photochemical pathways exist for the conversion of the superoxide to the dioxide ground state (involving 1.6 or 4 eV photons) and iii) an important matrix effect exists in the Ni + O2
→ Ni(O2) or ONiO branching ratios. Theoretical results confirm that the electronic ground state of the metastable superoxide corresponds to the singlet state, in agreement with former CCSD(T) calculations, but in contradiction with other recent works. Our results show that the ground electronic state of the dioxide is 1Σ+g with the lowest triplet and quintet states at slightly higher energy, consistent with the observation of weak vibronic transitions in the near infrared. The potential energy profiles are modelled for the ground state and nine electronic excited states and a pathway for the Ni(triplet) + O2(triplet) → Ni(O2) or ONiO (singlet) reaction is proposed, as well as for the Ni(O2) → ONiO photochemical reaction, accounting for the experimental observations.
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