Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Dong-Sheng Yang


Lanthanum (La)-promoted hydrocarbon activation reactions were carried out in a laser vaporization metal cluster beam source. Reaction products were identified by time-of-flight mass spectrometry, and the approximate ionization thresholds of La-hydrocarbon complexes were located with photoionization efficiency spectroscopy. The accurate ionization energies and vibrational frequencies of the La complexes were measured using mass analyzed threshold ionization (MATI) spectroscopy. Their molecular structures and electronic states were investigated by combing the MATI spectroscopic measurements with quantum chemical and Franck-Condon factor calculations.

In this dissertation, La-mediated C-H and C-C bond activation reactions were investigated for several small alkynes (acetylene, propyne) and alkenes (propene, 1,3-butadiene, 1-butene). The C-H bond activation was observed for both alkynes and alkenes and the C-C bond activation for alkenes. The metal-hydrocarbon intermediates formed by the C-H or C-C bond cleavage reacted further with one or more parent hydrocarbon molecules to produce larger species by C-C bond coupling reactions. Structural isomers of the intermediates and products were identified within an energy range of several kilocalories per mole. Reaction pathways for the intermediate and product formations were studied by theoretical calculations.

The ground electron configuration of La atom is 4d16s2.Upon the hydrocarbon coordination, La atom is excited to a 4d26s1 configuration to facilitate the formation of two La-C bonds. After the metal-hydrocarbon complex formation, only one electron is left in the 6s orbital of the metal center. Therefore, the most stable electronic state of the La complexes studied in this work is in a doublet spin state. Ionization of the doublet state yields a preferred singlet ion state. Although La is in the formal oxidation state of +2, the ionization energies of the metal-complexes are significantly lower than that of the free atom. This observation suggests that the concept of the formal oxidation state widely used in chemistry textbooks is not useful in predicting the change of the ionization energy of a metal atom upon ligation. Moreover, ionization has a very small effect on the geometry of the hydrocarbon fragment in each complex but significantly reduces the La-C distances as a result of an additional charge interaction.