As with carbenes, a strong correlation exists between the spin density on the nitrogen atom which can be calculated in silico and the zero-field splitting parameter D which can be derived experimentally from electron spin resonance. Small nitrenes such as NH or CF3N have D values around 1.8 cm−1 with spin densities close to a maximum value of 2. At the lower end of the scale are molecules with low D (< 0.4) values and spin density of 1.2 to 1.4 such as 9-anthrylnitrene and 9-phenanthrylnitrene.
Because nitrenes are so reactive, they are not isolated. Instead, they are formed as reactive intermediates during a reaction. There are two common ways to generate nitrenes:
In most cases, however, [N-(p-nitrophenylsulfonyl)imino]phenyliodinane (PhI=NNs) is prepared separately as follows:
Nitrene transfer takes place next:
In this particular reaction both the cisstilbene illustrated and the trans form (not depicted) result in the same trans-aziridine product, suggesting a two-step reaction mechanism. The energy difference between triplet and singlet nitrenes can be very small in some cases, allowing interconversion at room temperature. Triplet nitrenes are thermodynamically more stable but react stepwise allowing free rotation and thus producing a mixture of stereochemistry.
arylnitrene ring-expansion and ring-contraction. Aryl nitrenes show ring expansion to 7-membered ring cumulenes, ring opening reactions and nitrile formations many times in complex reaction paths. For instance the azide2 in the scheme below trapped in an argonmatrix at 20 K on photolysis expels nitrogen to the triplet nitrene 4 (observed experimentally with ESR and ultraviolet-visible spectroscopy) which is in equilibrium with the ring-expansion product 6.
The nitrene ultimately converts to the ring-opened nitrile5 through the diradical intermediate 7. In a high-temperature reaction, FVT at 500–600 °C also yields the nitrile 5 in 65% yield.
For several compounds containing both a nitrene group and a free radical group an ESR high-spin quartet has been recorded (matrix, crygenic temperatures). One of these has an amine oxide radical group incorporated, another system has a carbon radical group.
In this system one of the nitrogen unpaired electrons is delocalized in the aromatic ring making the compound a sigma, sigma, pi-triradical. A carbene nitrogen radical (imidyl radical) resonance structure makes a contribution to the total electronic picture.
^W. Lwowski, Ed. Nitrenes. (1970). Interscience. New York
^C. Wentrup. Reactive Intermediates. (1984). Wiley. New York
^ abNitrenes, Diradicals, and Ylides. Ring Expansion and Ring Opening in 2-QuinazolylnitrenesDavid Kvaskoff, Pawel Bednarek, Lisa George, Kerstin Waich, and Curt Wentrup J. Org. Chem.; 2006; 71(11) pp 4049 - 4058; (Article) doi:10.1021/jo052541i
^Intermolecular Amidation of Unactivated sp2 and sp3 C-H Bonds via Palladium-Catalyzed Cascade C-H Activation/Nitrene Insertion Hung-Yat Thu, Wing-Yiu Yu, and Chi-Ming Che J. Am. Chem. Soc.; 2006; 128(28) pp 9048 - 9049; (Communication) doi:10.1021/ja062856v
^Novel Intramolecular Reactivity of Oximes: Synthesis of Cyclic and Spiro-Fused Imines Cécile G. Savarin, Christiane Grisé, Jerry A. Murry, Robert A. Reamer, and David L. Hughes Org. Lett.; 2007; 9(6) pp 981 - 983; (Letter) doi:10.1021/ol0630043
^Heterospin organic molecules: nitrene–radical linkages Polyhedron, Volume 20, Issues 11-14, 30 May 2001, Pages 1647-1652 Paul M Lahti, Burak Esat, Yi Liao, Paul Serwinski, Jiang Lan and Richard Walton doi:10.1016/S0277-5387(01)00667-2
^2,3,5,6-Tetrafluorophenylnitren-4-yl: Electron Paramagnetic Resonance Spectroscopic Characterization of a Quartet-Ground-State Nitreno Radical Wolfram Sander, Dirk Grote, Simone Kossmann, and Frank Neese J. AM. CHEM. SOC.2008, 130, 4396-4403 doi:10.1021/ja078171s