During the 1960s, a holy grail of synthetic chemists was to devise an efficient route to steroids. R. B. Woodward was one the chemists who undertook this challenge, starting from compounds known as dienones (e.g. 1) and their mysterious conversion to phenols (e.g. 2 or 3) under acidic conditions. This was also the golden era of mechanistic exploration, which coupled with an abundance of radioactive isotopes from the war effort had ignited the great dienone-phenol debates of that time (now largely forgotten). In a classic recording from the late 1970s, Woodward muses how chemistry had changed since he started in the early 1940s. In particular he notes how crystallography had revolutionised the reliability and speed of molecular structure determination. Here I speculate what he might have made of modern computational chemistry, and in particular whether it might cast new light on those mechanistic controversies of the past.
Posts Tagged ‘computational chemist’
The bimolecular nucleophilic substitution reaction at saturated carbon is an icon of organic chemistry, and is better known by its mechanistic label, SN2. It is normally a slow reaction, with half lives often measured in hours. This implies a significant barrier to reaction (~15-20 kcal/mol) for the transition state, shown below (X is normally both a good nucleophile and a good nucleofuge/leaving group, such as halide, cyanide, etc. Y can have a wide variety of forms).