A sting in the tail of flexible molecules: spectroscopic and energetic challenges in the case of p-aminophenethylamine Academic Article uri icon


  • The neurotransmitter analogue p-aminophenethylamine (APEA) illustrates many of the pitfalls and challenges associated with spectroscopic and conformational analysis of flexible molecules. The combined experimental-theoretical study presented here resolves a long-standing controversy over its conformational energetic preferences. Jet-cooled resonance enhanced two-photon ionisation (R2PI) and IR-UV ion depletion techniques enabled conformer-specific IR spectra in the NH-CH stretch region to be measured for four distinct conformers of APEA. Comparison of spectra with theoretical calculations (including MP2, M06-2X and B3LYP with aug-cc-pVTZ basis sets) allows the two most populated conformers to be unambiguously identified as those having a gauche arrangement of the side chain, which facilitates an NH···π type hydrogen bond. The other two observed conformers are assigned to structures with an anti-side chain. A fifth gauche conformer, predicted to be least stable, is not observed. Comparison with published conformer specific IR spectra of tyramine (Makara et al., J. Phys. Chem. A, 2008, 112, 13463-13469) and Raman spectra of phenylethylamine (Golan et al., J. Chem. Phys., 2009, 131, 024305) reveals an entirely consistent pattern of spectral signatures associated with the four specific conformations of the ethylamine side chain evident in APEA, and aids assignment of the associated CH and NH stretch fundamentals, some of which have very weak IR intensities. Extensive calculations of the relative energetic trends of the five conformers have been carried out. In comparison to the highest level of theory considered, CCSD(T)-F12b/cc-pVDZ-F12, MP2 overestimate the energy difference, whereas DFT significantly underestimates the energetic preference for NH···π stabilised gauche conformers, although inclusion of dispersion (M06-2X, B3LYP-D3) improves the DFT results.

publication date

  • 2012