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Size-Dependent Proton Localization in Hydrated Uracil Clusters : A Joint Experimental and Theoretical Study

J. Chem. Phys. 2019, 150, 014303

A collision-induced dissociation study of hydrated protonated uracil (H2O)n=1-15UH+ clusters is reported. The mass-selected clusters collide with water molecules and rare gases at a controlled center of mass collision energy. From these measurements, absolute fragmentation cross sections and branching ratios are extracted as a function of the uracil hydration. For small clusters, up to n = 4, we observe that only neutral water molecules are evaporated upon collisions, whereas, for larger clusters, neutral uracil is also evaporated : this transition in the nature of the evaporation products is interpreted considering the lowest-energy isomers of each species that are obtained from a combination of density-functional based tight-binding and MP2 calculations. The simulations show that in (H2O)1-4UH+ the proton is located on the uracil molecule or on a water molecule strongly bound to uracil whereas, in larger clusters, the proton is bound to water molecules far from uracil. This correlation between the structure of the low-energy isomers and the experimental fragmentation channel suggests that dissociation may occur in a very short time after collisions so that energy has not enough time to be redistributed among all degrees of freedom and the ground-state geometry of the parent cluster partly determines the nature of the favored fragmentation channels. Of course, thermal dissociations originating from long lived, thus thermalized, collision complexes cannot be ruled out but they are not expected to play the major role since the experimental results can be satisfactorily accounted for by assuming that the fragmentation processes are mainly impulsive.