The hydrogen-abstraction/acetylene-addition mechanism has been fundamental to unravelling the synthesis of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) detected in combustion flames and carbonaceous meteorites like Orgueil and Murchison. However, the fundamental reaction pathways accounting for the synthesis of complex PAHs, such as the tricyclic anthracene and phenanthrene along with their dihydrogenated counterparts, remain elusive to date. By investigating the hitherto unknown chemistry of the 1-naphthyl radical with 1,3-butadiene, we reveal a facile barrierless synthesis of dihydrophenanthrene adaptable to low temperatures. These aryl-type radical additions to conjugated hydrocarbons via resonantly stabilized free-radical intermediates defy conventional wisdom that PAH growth is predominantly a high-temperature phenomenon and thus may represent an overlooked path to PAHs as complex as coronene and corannulene in cold regions of the interstellar medium like in the Taurus Molecular Cloud.
Keywords: aryl radicals; astrochemistry; gas phase chemistry; mass spectrometry; polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon.
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