Conspectus: Aromatic compounds and polymers are integrated into organic field effect transistors, light-emitting diodes, photovoltaic devices, and redox-flow batteries. These compounds and materials feature increasingly complex designs, and substituents influence energy levels, bandgaps, solution conformation, and crystal packing, all of which impact performance. However, many polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons of interest are difficult to prepare because their substitution patterns lie outside the scope of current synthetic methods, as strategies for functionalizing benzene are often unselective when applied to naphthalene or larger systems. For example, cross-coupling and nucleophilic aromatic substitution reactions rely on prefunctionalized arenes, and even directed metalation methods most often modify positions near Lewis basic sites. Similarly, electrophilic aromatic substitutions access single regioisomers under substrate control. Cycloadditions provide a convergent route to densely functionalized aromatic compounds that compliment the above methods. After surveying cycloaddition reactions that might be used to modify the conjugated backbone of poly(phenylene ethynylene)s, we discovered that the Asao-Yamamoto benzannulation reaction is notably efficient. Although this reaction had been reported a decade earlier, its scope and usefulness for synthesizing complex aromatic systems had been under-recognized. This benzannulation reaction combines substituted 2-(phenylethynyl)benzaldehydes and substituted alkynes to form 2,3-substituted naphthalenes. The reaction tolerates a variety of sterically congested alkynes, making it well-suited for accessing poly- and oligo(ortho-arylene)s and contorted hexabenzocoronenes. In many cases in which asymmetric benzaldehyde and alkyne cycloaddition partners are used, the reaction is regiospecific based on the electronic character of the alkyne substrate. Recognizing these desirable features, we broadened the substrate scope to include silyl- and halogen-substituted alkynes. Through a combined experimental and computational approach, we have elucidated mechanistic insight and key principles that govern the regioselectivity outcome of the benzannulation of structurally diverse alkynes.We have applied these methods to prepare sterically hindered, shape-persistent aromatic systems, heterocyclic aromatic compounds, functionalized 2-aryne precursors, polyheterohalogenated naphthalenes, ortho-arylene foldamers, and graphene nanoribbons. As a result of these new synthetic avenues, aromatic structures with interesting properties were uncovered such as ambipolar charge transport in field effect transistors based on our graphene nanoribbons, conformational aspects of ortho-arylene architectures resulting from intramolecular ?-stacking, and modulation of frontier molecular orbitals via protonation of heteroatom containing aromatic systems. Given the availability of many substituted 2-(phenylethynyl)benzaldehydes and the regioselectivity of the benzannulation reaction, naphthalenes can be prepared with control of the substitution pattern at seven of the eight substitutable positions. Researchers in a range of fields are likely to benefit directly from newly accessible molecular and polymeric systems derived from polyfunctionalized naphthalenes.
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