Strong inverse kinetic isotope effect observed in ammonia charge exchange reactions

L. S. Petralia, A. Tsikritea, J. Loreau, T. P. Softley, B. R. Heazlewood*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Isotopic substitution has long been used to understand the detailed mechanisms of chemical reactions; normally the substitution of hydrogen by deuterium leads to a slower reaction. Here, we report our findings on the charge transfer collisions of cold Xe + ions and two isotopologues of ammonia, NH 3 and ND 3. Deuterated ammonia is found to react more than three times faster than hydrogenated ammonia. Classical capture models are unable to account for this pronounced inverse kinetic isotope effect. Moreover, detailed ab initio calculations cannot identify any (energetically accessible) crossing points between the reactant and product potential energy surfaces, indicating that electron transfer is likely to be slow. The higher reactivity of ND 3 is attributed to the greater density of states (and therefore lifetime) of the deuterated reaction complex compared to the hydrogenated system. Our observations could provide valuable insight into possible mechanisms contributing to deuterium fractionation in the interstellar medium.

Original languageEnglish
Article number173
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
B.R.H. and T.P.S. acknowledge the financial support of the EPSRC (projects EP/ N004647/1 and EP/N032950/1). A.T. thanks the Clarendon Fund and Somerville College for providing her with a scholarship. J.L. thanks J. Liévin, M. Kas and N. Vaeck for useful discussions on the potential energy surface calculations.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s).

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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