The quest for organic materials with improved optoelectronic properties has stimulated the development of new strategies for the preparation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Within this context, transition metal catalysis offers unparalleled opportunities for the assembly of complex molecular architectures. The palladium-catalyzed direct C–H arylation provides straight access to biaryls without the need of prefunctionalization at the nucleophilic site, which is attractive from the perspective of the synthesis of polyarenes. Mechanistically, this reaction was found to be different from an electrophilic aromatic substitution, involving the abstraction of a proton by an external base in the key metalation step. Using readily available C27 truxene as the starting material, a concise synthetic route consisting of a threefold benzylation and subsequent palladium-catalyzed arylation led to C60 polyarenes, also referred to as “crushed fullerenes”, which could be converted into C60 fullerene by laser-induced cyclodehydrogenation in the gas phase or by thermal cyclodehydrogenation on a platinum surface. A conceptually related strategy based on the use of a highly electrophilic gold(I) complex as the catalyst for the threefold intramolecular hydroarylation of truxene derivatives was applied for the synthesis of decacyclenes.
Using gold(I) catalysis, we have also developed a variety of synthetically useful protocols for the cycloisomerization of readily available 1,n-enynes as well as for the addition for nucleophiles to these unsaturated substrates. In one of these transformations, 1,7-enynes bearing aryl-substituted alkynes undergo formal [4 + 2] cycloaddition reactions via gold(I)-catalyzed 6-exo–dig cyclization and intramolecular Friedel–Crafts-type reaction to form tricyclic compounds bearing a dihydronaphthalene core. A related transformation led to a general synthesis of hydroacenes, which are known to be stabilized precursors of the corresponding conjugated acenes with enhanced solubility. A wide variety of dihydrotetracenes featuring electron-donating and electron-withdrawing groups, as well as dihydropentacene and dihydrohexacene could be easily obtained. A simple variation of our synthetic route led to tetrahydro-derivatives of higher acenes with up to 11 linearly fused six-membered rings. The dehydrogenation of tetrahydroacenes on a metallic substrate using the tip of a scanning tunneling microscopy instrument or by thermal annealing enabled the preparation of the whole series of higher acenes from heptacene up to previously unknown undecacene, whose structure was confirmed by noncontact atomic force microscopy. This work provided a unique opportunity for the analysis of the evolution of the transport gap in the acene series on Au(111). Furthermore, heptacene was also generated by on-surface dehydrogenation on Ag(001) from tetrahydroheptacene and a dibrominated derivative.