The isomerization of hydrogen cyanide to hydrogen isocyanide on icy grain surfaces is investigated by an accurate composite method (jun-Cheap) rooted in the coupled cluster ansatz and by density functional approaches. After benchmarking density functional predictions of both geometries and reaction energies against jun-Cheap results for the relatively small model system HCN···(H2O)2, the best performing DFT methods are selected. A large cluster containing 20 water molecules is then employed within a QM/QM′ approach to include a realistic environment mimicking the surface of icy grains. Our results indicate that four water molecules are directly involved in a proton relay mechanism, which strongly reduces the activation energy with respect to the direct hydrogen transfer occurring in the isolated molecule. Further extension of the size of the cluster up to 192 water molecules in the framework of a three-layer QM/QM′/MM model has a negligible effect on the energy barrier ruling the isomerization. Computation of reaction rates by the transition state theory indicates that on icy surfaces, the isomerization of HNC to HCN could occur quite easily even at low temperatures thanks to the reduced activation energy that can be effectively overcome by tunneling.
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