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Funded in part by the VCU Libraries Open Access Publishing Fund.

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August 2019


Organic phosphates and phosphonates are present in a number of cellular components that can be damaged by exposure to ionizing radiation. This work reports femtosecond time-resolved mass spectrometry (FTRMS) studies of three organic phosphonate radical cations that model the DNA sugar-phosphate backbone: dimethyl methylphosphonate (DMMP), diethyl methylphosphonate (DEMP), and diisopropyl methylphosphonate (DIMP). Upon ionization, each molecular radical cation exhibits unique oscillatory dynamics in its ion yields resulting from coherent vibrational excitation. DMMP has particularly well-resolved 45 fs (732 ± 28 cm−1) oscillations with a weak feature at 610–650 cm−1, while DIMP exhibits bimodal oscillations with a period of ∼55 fs and two frequency features at 554 ± 28 and 670–720 cm−1. In contrast, the oscillations in DEMP decay too rapidly for effective resolution. The low- and high-frequency oscillations in DMMP and DIMP are assigned to coherent excitation of the symmetric O–P–O bend and P–C stretch, respectively. The observation of the same ionization-induced coherently excited vibrations in related molecules suggests a possible common excitation pathway in ionized organophosphorus compounds of biological relevance, while the distinct oscillatory dynamics in each molecule points to the potential use of FTRMS to distinguish among fragment ions produced by related molecules.


©2019 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (

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