23 Jun 2018

Interpreting Reaction Profile Energy Diagrams: Experiment vs. Computation

In-Class Activity

Submitted by Douglas A. Vander Griend, Calvin College

The associated paper by Lehnert et al. uses DFT to investigate the reaction mechanism whereby a flavodiiron nitric oxide reductase mimic reduces two NO molecules to N2O. While being a rather long and technical paper, it does include several figures that highlight the reaction profile of the 4-step reaction. This LO is designed to help students learn how to recognize and interpret such diagrams, based on free energy in this case. Furthermore, using a simple form of the Arrhenius equation (eq. 8 from the paper) relating activation energy, temperature and rate, the student can make some initial judgements about how well DFT calculations model various aspects of a reaction mechanism such as the structure of intermediates and transition states, and free energy changes.

Learning Goals: 
Upon completing this activity, students will be able to:
  1. Interpret reaction profile energy diagrams.

  2. Use experimental and computational data to calculate half lives from activation energies and vice versa.

  3. Assess the value and limitations of DFT calculations.

Implementation Notes: 

Having not run this with a class, we can only suggest that this activity be run in a single class period.

We presume that students have been exposed to the basic idea of reaction profiles.

Teacher should hand out the paper ahead of time and reassure students that they are not going to be expected to understand many of the details of this dense computational research paper. Instead, students should read just the synopsis included on the handout.Teacher should then spend 5 - 10 minutes summarizing key aspects of paper: 1) it's about a nitric oxide reductase mimic that catalyzes the reaction 2NO → N2O + O; 2) NO is important signaling molecule; 3) DFT is a computational method to model almost any chemical molecule, including hypothetical intermediates and transition states.

Students should work through questions in groups of 2 - 4. The final question (12) is somewhat openended and the teacher should be prepared to lead a wrap up discussion on the benefits and limitations of computational chemistry.

Time Required: 
50 minutes
Evaluation Methods: 

Having not run this yet because it was collaboatively developed as part of a IONIC VIPEr workshop, we suggest grading questions 1-9 for correctness, either during or after class. Students should be tested later with additional questions based on reaction profiles. The final 3 questions should prepare students to constructively discuss the merits/limitations of computational methods. after discussion, students could be asked to submit a 1-minute paper on how well they can describe the benefits/limitations of compuational chemistry.

Evaluation Results: 

Once we use this, we will report back on the results.

Creative Commons License: 
Creative Commons Licence


I like this activity very  much indeed.

I'm not sure in Question 5 whether you're able to answer the question about exothermic vs. endothermic from Scheme 4, which shows free energies and not enthalpies - unless you are assuming that delta S is zero...or have I missed something?   

Great point, Robert. I'll update the question to reflect changes in G rather than H.

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