What is it about?

Carbon is one of the most important elements to life. The many ways in which carbon can bind to other atoms makes it extremely versatile. In almost every situation, carbon forms four bonds with other atoms: no more, no less. However, in rare cases, carbon atoms can form five bonds. Such molecules are said to have a “pentacoordinate carbon,” and only a few have been successfully produced in laboratories. In this study, the authors present a new molecule with a carbon atom containing five bonds. This molecule features three central aluminum atoms that are held in place by a rigid naphthalene backbone. Together, these three aluminum atoms “trap” one external carbon atom at the core of the molecule. The carbon atom ends up forming five bonds because it forms three with the aluminum atoms and two with two hydrogen atoms.

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Why is it important?

The properties of many promising materials, such as graphene, depend on the uncommon bonds of their carbon atoms. Thus, finding exotic molecules with rare carbon bonds could lead to interesting applications. These might include catalysis, chemical synthesis, medicine, and electronics. Notably, the authors produced this new molecule in their laboratory, not just predicted it. They also provided a detailed analysis of why the central carbon atom forms five bonds. In addition, this is the first molecule with this type of carbon atom that has aluminum as its only metal. Further knowledge about how a carbon atom can form more than four bonds will help develop new, exciting compounds. KEY TAKEAWAY: Scientists successfully produced a molecule containing a carbon atom with five bonds. Of these, three were with aluminum atoms. This could pave the way to new molecules with exotic carbon bonds and promising applications.

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This page is a summary of: Trapping an unusual pentacoordinate carbon atom in a neutral trialuminum complex, Chemical Communications, January 2021, Royal Society of Chemistry,
DOI: 10.1039/d1cc04265c.
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