Quantifying the Steric Effect on Metal-Ligand Bonding in Fe Carbene Photosensitizers with Fe 2p3d Resonant Inelastic X-ray Scattering

Kristjan Kunnus, Meiyuan Guo, Elisa Biasin, Christopher B. Larsen, Charles J. Titus, Sang Jun Lee, Dennis Nordlund, Amy A. Cordones, Jens Uhlig, Kelly J. Gaffney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Understanding the electronic structure and chemical bonding of transition metal complexes is important for improving the function of molecular photosensitizers and catalysts. We have utilized X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) and resonant inelastic X-ray scattering (RIXS) at the Fe L3 edge to investigate the electronic structure of two Fe N-heterocyclic carbene complexes with similar chemical structures but different steric effects and contrasting excited-state dynamics: [Fe(bmip)2]2+ and [Fe(btbip)2]2+, bmip = 2,6-bis(3-methyl-imidazole-1-ylidine)pyridine and btbip = 2,6-bis(3-tert-butyl-imidazole-1-ylidene)pyridine. In combination with charge transfer multiplet and ab initio calculations, we quantified how changes in Fe-carbene bond length due to steric effects modify the metal-ligand bonding, including σ/πdonation and πback-donation. We find that σ donation is significantly stronger in [Fe(bmip)2]2+, whereas the πback-donation is similar in both complexes. The resulting stronger ligand field and nephelauxetic effect in [Fe(bmip)2]2+ lead to approximately 1 eV destabilization of the quintet metal-centered 5T2g excited state compared to [Fe(btbip)2]2+, providing an explanation for the absence of a photoinduced 5T2g population and a longer metal-to-ligand charge-transfer excited-state lifetime in [Fe(bmip)2]2+. This work demonstrates how combined modeling of XAS and RIXS spectra can be utilized to understand the electronic structure of transition metal complexes governed by correlated electrons and donation/back-donation interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1961-1972
JournalInorganic Chemistry
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Physical Chemistry
  • Atom and Molecular Physics and Optics


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