Journal of the American Chemical Society vol:XXX issue:XXX pages:XXX-XXX
Visualizing proton-transfer processes at the nanoscale is essential for understanding the reactivity of zeolite-based catalyst materials. In this work, the Brønsted-acid-catalyzed oligomerization of styrene derivatives was used for the first time as a single molecule probe reaction to study the reactivity of individual zeolite H-ZSM-5 crystals in different zeolite framework, reactant and solvent environments. This was accomplished via the formation of distinct dimeric and trimeric fluorescent carbocations, characterized by their different photostability, as detected by single molecule fluorescence microscopy. The oligomerization kinetics turned out to be very sensitive to the reaction conditions and the presence of the local structural defects in zeolite H-ZSM-5 crystals. The remarkably photostable trimeric carbocations were found to be formed predominantly near defect-rich crystalline regions. This spectroscopic marker offers clear prospects for nanoscale quality control of zeolite-based materials. Interestingly, replacing n-heptane with 1-butanol as a solvent led to a reactivity decrease of several orders and shorter survival times of fluorescent products due to the strong chemisorption of 1-butanol onto the Brønsted acid sites. A similar effect was achieved by changing the electrophilic character of the para-substituent of the styrene moiety. Based on the measured turnover rates we have established a quantitative, single turnover approach to evaluate substituent and solvent effects on the reactivity of individual zeolite H-ZSM-5 crystals.