Reprinted from the Canadian Journal of Chemistry, 73, 191-203 (1995).

©National Research Council of Canada, 1995.

Cyclobutene Photochemistry. Substituent Effects on the Photochemistry of 1-Phenylcyclobutene

William J. Leigh* and J. Alberto Postigo

Department of Chemistry, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada L8S 4M1

Abstract: The photochemistry and photophysics of 1-phenylcyclobutene and five aryl-substituted derivatives have been studied in various solvents at room temperature. All six compounds fluoresce with quantum yields in the 0.2-0.3 range in cyclohexane and acetonitrile solution. 1-Phenylcyclobutene undergoes [2+2]-cycloreversion to yield phenylacetylene upon photolysis in either hydrocarbon or acetonitrile solution, and undergoes (Markovnikov) solvent addition upon irradiation in methanol solution in addition to cycloreversion. Triplet sensitization and quenching experiments indicate that cycloreversion and methanol addition are both excited singlet state processes. None of the six compounds studied undergo ring opening to the corresponding 2-aryl-1,3-butadiene in detectable yield. Quantum yields for cycloreversion in cyclohexane, acetonitrile, and methanol solution and methanol addition have been determined for the six compounds, along with excited singlet state lifetimes. The quantum yields and rate constants for cycloreversion and methanol addition are both enhanced by substitution with electron-donating groups. The variation in the rate constant for [2+2]-cycloreversion with substituent indicates that there is substantial dipolar character developed in the cyclobutenyl sigma-bond framework during the reaction, in almost exact correspondence with that developed in the pi-system during photoprotonation. No deuterium scrambling is observed in 1-phenylcyclobutene-2,4,4-d3 after photolysis in pentane solution to ca. 80% conversion, indicating that skeletal rearrangements leading to cyclopropyl carbenes do not occur in the direct photolysis of arylcyclobutene derivatives. A pericyclic mechanism for the photocycloreversion reaction is suggested. Triplet-triplet absorption spectra and triplet lifetimes of 1-phenyl-, 1-(para-methylphenyl)-, and 1-(para-trifluoromethylphenyl)cyclobutene in hydrocarbon solution are also reported.