The study of a homologous series of precursors to bridged polysilsesquioxanes has uncovered striking discontinuities in gelation behavior. An investigation of the chemistry during the early stages of the polymerization has provided a molecular basis for these observations. Monomers containing from one to four bridging carbon atoms exhibit a pronounced tendency to undergo rapid intra- or bimolecular cyclization. The cyclic and bicyclic intermediates have been characterized by 29Si NMR spectroscopy, chemical ionization mass spectrometry, and isolation from the reaction solution. These carbosiloxanes are local thermodynamic sinks that produce kinetic bottlenecks in the production of high-molecular-weight silsesquioxanes. The formation of cyclic carbosiloxanes results in slowing or in some cases completely shutting down, gelation. An additional finding is that the cyclic structures are incorporated intact into the final xerogel.
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