12 March 2019

Phantom Reactivity on Magnetic Stir Bars

Magnetic stir bars are routinely used by every chemist doing synthetic or catalytic transformations in solution. Each bar lasts for months or years, as the regular PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) coating is believed to be highly durable, inert, and resistant to multiple washings and cleanings. By using electron microscopy, we found out quite unexpectedly that the surface of magnetic stir bars is susceptible to microscale destruction and forms various types of defects. These microscopic defects effectively trap and accumulate trace amounts of active components from reaction mixtures, most notably metal species. Trapped in surface defects, the impurities escape elimination by washing and cleaning, thus remaining on the surface. FE-SEM/EDX analysis shows that the surface of used stir bars is littered with contaminants representing a variety of metals (Pd, Pt, Au, Fe, Co, Cr, etc.). ESI-MS monitoring corroborates the transfer of the trace metal species to reaction mixtures, while chemical tests indicate their significant catalytic activity. A theoretical DFT study reveals a remarkably high binding energy of metal atoms to the PTFE surface, especially in cases of local mechanical disruption or chemical influence. A plausible mechanism of PTFE surface contamination is suggested, and the results show that metal contamination of reusable polymer-coated labware is greatly underestimated. The present study suggests that corresponding control experiments with an unused stir bar (to avoid misinterpretations due to the influence of contamination of magnetic stir bars) are a "must do" for reporting high-performance catalytic reactions, reactions with low catalyst loadings, metal-catalyst-free reactions, and mechanistic studies.

Reference: ACS Catal., 2019, 9, 3070-3081

DOI: 10.1021/acscatal.9b00294

On-line version: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/acscatal.9b00294