Ubiquitous deprotonation of terephthalic acid in the self-assembled phases on Cu(100)†
We performed an exhaustive study of terephthalic acid (TPA) self-assembly on a Cu(100) surface, where first-layer molecules display two sequential phase transitions in the 200–400 K temperature range, corresponding to different stages of molecular deprotonation. We followed the chemical and structural changes by means of high-resolution X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) and variable-temperature scanning tunneling microscopy (STM), which were interpreted on the basis of density functional theory (DFT) calculations and photoemission simulations. In order to reveal the spectroscopic contributions of the molecules in different states of deprotonation, we modified the substrate reactivity by deposition of a small amount of Sn, which hampers the deprotonation reaction. We found that the characteristic molecular ribbons of the TPA/Cu(100) α-phase at a low temperature contain a significant fraction of partially deprotonated molecules, in contrast to the expectation of a fully protonated phase, where the self-assembly was claimed to be simply driven by the intermolecular double hydrogen bonds [OH⋯O]. On the basis of our simulations, we propose a model where the carboxylate groups of the partially deprotonated molecules form single hydrogen bonds with the carboxylic groups of the fully protonated molecules. Using real time XPS, we also monitored the kinetics of the deprotonation reaction. We show that the network of mixed single and double hydrogen bonds inhibits further deprotonation up to ∼270 K, whereas the isolated molecules display a much lower deprotonation barrier.