Structural Chemistry

, Volume 28, Issue 6, pp 1743–1756 | Cite as

DFT studies on the acid-catalyzed Curtius reaction: the Schmidt reaction

  • Rita Kakkar
  • Ritu Arora
  • Sheza Zaidi
Original Research


The Schmidt reaction is the acid-catalyzed analogue of the Curtius reaction and is extensively used in organic synthesis. In this work, the mechanism of this reaction has been explored using DFT calculations at the B3LYP/6-311+G(d,p) level. Protonated formyl azide may undergo rearrangement to the product, protonated isocyanic acid, with simultaneous extrusion of molecular nitrogen (concerted mechanism), or undergo rearrangement to the anti conformer, followed by removal of nitrogen to form the nitrenium ion, which then rearranges to the final product, protonated isocyanic acid (step-wise mechanism). Like the Curtius reaction, it is found that the concerted pathway is definitely preferred. The key role of acidification in decreasing the overall energy barrier is more highlighted in case of phenyl substitution, with negligible effect on the lower homologues. For methoxy and amine substituents, there is very little difference in the activation energies of the concerted and step-wise reactions, with the former being still slightly preferred. Unlike the parent compound, the rearrangement of substituted nitrenium ion in some cases involves side reactions like C-H insertion and cyclization.


Schmidt rearrangement Nitrenium ion Concerted Step-wise DFT Substituent effects 



The authors thank the University of Delhi’s “Scheme to Strengthen Doctoral Research by Providing Funds to Faculty.” One of the authors (RA) thanks the University Grants Commission (UGC) for a Senior Research Fellowship.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical statement

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11224_2017_952_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1.1 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 1082 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Computational Chemistry Group, Department of ChemistryUniversity of DelhiDelhiIndia

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