Formation of the prebiotic molecule NH2CHO on astronomical amorphous solid water surfaces: accurate tunneling rate calculations†
Investigating how formamide forms in the interstellar medium is a hot topic in astrochemistry, which can contribute to our understanding of the origin of life on Earth. We have constructed a QM/MM model to simulate the hydrogenation of isocyanic acid on amorphous solid water surfaces to form formamide. The binding energy of HNCO on the ASW surface varies significantly between different binding sites, we found values between ∼0 and 100 kJ mol−1. The barrier for the hydrogenation reaction is almost independent of the binding energy, though. We calculated tunneling rate constants of H + HNCO → NH2CO at temperatures down to 103 K combining QM/MM with instanton theory. Tunneling dominates the reaction at such low temperatures. The tunneling reaction is hardly accelerated by the amorphous solid water surface compared to the gas phase for this system, even though the activation energy of the surface reaction is lower than the one of the gas-phase reaction. Both the height and width of the barrier affect the tunneling rate in practice. Strong kinetic isotope effects were observed by comparing to rate constants of D + HNCO → NHDCO. At 103 K we found a KIE of 231 on the surface and 146 in the gas phase. Furthermore, we investigated the gas-phase reaction NH2 + H2CO → NH2CHO + H and found it unlikely to occur at cryogenic temperatures. The data of our tunneling rate constants are expected to significantly influence astrochemical models.