Synthesis of Nanographenes, Starphenes, and Sterically Congested Polyarenes by Aryne Cyclotrimerization

ConspectusIn recent years, synthetic transformations based on aryne chemistry have become particularly popular, mostly due to the spread of methods to generate these highly reactive intermediates in a controlled manner under mild reaction conditions. In fact, aryne cycloadditions such as the Diels–Alder reaction are nowadays widely used for the efficient preparation of polycyclic aromatic compounds.In 1998, our group discovered that arynes can undergo transition metal-catalyzed reactions, a finding that opened new perspectives in aryne chemistry. In particular, Pd-catalyzed [2 + 2 + 2] cycloaddition of arynes allowed the straightforward synthesis of triphenylene derivatives such as starphenes or cloverphenes. We found that this reaction is compatible with different substituents and sterically demanding arynes as starting materials. This transformation is especially useful to increase the molecular complexity in one single step, transforming molecules formed by n cycles in structures with 3n + 1 cycles. In fact, we took advantage of this protocol to prepare a large variety of sterically congested polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons such as helicenes or twisted polyarenes. Soon after the discovery of the reaction, the co-cyclotrimerization of arynes with other reaction partners, such as electron deficient alkynes, significantly expanded the potential of this transformation. Also the use of catalysts based on alternative metals besides Pd (e.g., Ni, Cu, Au) or the use of other strained intermediates such as cycloalkynes or cycloallenes added value to this reaction.In addition, we realized that the Pd-catalyzed aryne cyclotrimerization reaction is particularly useful for the bottom-up preparation of well-defined nanographenes by chemical methods. Although the extreme insolubility of these planar nanographenes hampered their manipulation and characterization by conventional methods, recent advances in single molecule on-surface characterization by atomic force microscopy (AFM) and scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) with functionalized tips under ultrahigh vacuum (UHV) conditions, permitted the impressive visualization of these nanographenes with submolecular resolution, together with the examination of the corresponding molecular orbital densities.Moreover, arynes have been shown to possess a rich on-surface chemistry. In particular, arynes have been generated and studied on-surface, showing that the reactivity is preserved even at cryogenic temperatures. On-surface aryne cyclotrimerization was also demonstrated to obtain large starphene derivatives. Therefore, it is expected that the combination of aryne cycloadditions and on-surface synthesis will provide notable findings in the near future, including the “à la carte” preparation of graphene materials or the synthesis of elusive molecules with unique properties.