Chiral-Icosahedral (I) Symmetry in Ubiquitous Metallic Cluster Compounds (145A,60X): Structure and Bonding Principles

Robert L. Whetten, Hans Christian Weissker, J. Jesús Pelayo, Sean M. Mullins, Xochitl López-Lozano, Ignacio L. Garzón

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


ConspectusThere exists a special kind of perfection - in symmetry, simplicity, and stability - attainable for structures generated from precisely 60 ligands (all of a single type) that protect 145 metal-atom sites. The symmetry in question is icosahedral (I h ), generally, and chiral icosahedral (I) in particular. A 60-fold equivalence of the ligands is the smallest number to allow this kind of perfection.Known cluster compounds that approximate this structural ideal include palladium-carbonyls, I h -Pd 145 (CO) 60 ; gold-thiolates, I-Au 144 (SR) 60 ; and gold-alkynyls, I-Au 144 (C 2 R) 60 . Many other variants are suspected. The Pd 145 compound established the basic achiral structure-type. However, the Au 144 -thiolate archetype is prominent, historically in its abundance and ease of preparation and handling, in its proliferation in many laboratories and application areas, and ultimately in the intrinsic chirality of its geometrical structure and organization of its bonding network or connectivity. As discovered by mass spectrometry (the "30-k anomaly") in 1995, it appeared as a broad single peak, as solitary and symmetrical as Mount Fuji, centered near 30 kDa (∼150 Au atoms), provoking these thoughts: Surely this phenomenon requires a unique explanation. It appears to be the Buckminsterfullerene (carbon-60) of gold-cluster chemistry.Herein we provide an elementary account of the unexpected discovery, in which the Pd 145 -structure played a critical role, that led to the identification and prediction, in 2008, of a fascinating new molecular structure-type, evidently the first one of chiral icosahedral symmetry. Rigorous confirmation of this prediction occurred in early spring 2018, when two single-crystal X-ray crystallography reports were submitted, each one distinguishing both enantiomeric structures and noting profound chirality for the surface (ligand) layer.The emphasis here is on the structure and bonding principles and how these have been elucidated. Our aim has been to present this story in simplest terms, consistent with the radical simplicity of the structure itself. Because it combines intrinsic profound chirality, at several levels, with the highest possible symmetry-type (icosahedral), the structure may attract broader interest also from educators, especially if studied in tandem with the analysis of hollow (shell) metallic systems that exhibit the same chirality and symmetry. Because the shortest (stiffest) bonds follow the chiral 3-way weave pattern of the traditional South-Asian reed football, this cultural artifact may be used to introduce chiral-icosahedral symmetry in a pleasant and memorable way. One may also appreciate easily the bonding and excitations in I-symmetry metallic nanostructures via the golden fullerenes, that is, the proposed hollow Au 60 , 72 spheres. Beyond any aesthetic or pedagogical value, we aim that our Account may provide a firm foundation upon which others may address open questions and the opportunities they present.This Account can scarcely hint at the prospects for further fundamental understanding of these compounds, as well as a widening sphere of applications (chemical, electronic, imaging). The compounds remain crucial to a wider field presently under intense development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)34-43
Number of pages10
JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 15 2019
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry


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