Posts Tagged ‘pericyclic’

The ten-electron homologue of semibullvalene.

Friday, September 21st, 2012

Semibullvalene is a molecule which undergoes a facile [3,3] sigmatropic shift. So facile that it appears this equilibrium can be frozen out at the transition state if suitable substituents are used. This is a six-electron process, which leads to one of those homologous questions; what happens with ten electrons?


The direct approach is not always the best: butadiene plus dichlorocarbene

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

The four-electron thermal cycloaddition (in reverse a cheletropic elimination) of dichlorocarbene to ethene is a classic example of a forbidden pericyclic process taking a roundabout route to avoid directly violating the Woodward-Hoffmann rules. However, a thermal six-electron process normally does take the direct route, as in for example the Diels-Alder cycloaddition as Houk and co have recently showed using molecular dynamics[1]. So can one contrive a six-electron cycloaddition involving dichlorocarbene?



  1. K. Black, P. Liu, L. Xu, C. Doubleday, and K.N. Houk, "Dynamics, transition states, and timing of bond formation in Diels-Alder reactions", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 109, pp. 12860-12865, 2012.

Predicted properties of a candidate for a frozen semibullvalene.

Monday, September 17th, 2012

I am following up on one unfinished thread in my previous post; a candidate was proposed in which the transition state for [3,3] sigmatropic rearrangement in a semibullvalene might be frozen out to become instead a stable minimum.


Frozen Semibullvalene: a holy grail (and a bis-homoaromatic molecule).

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

Semibullvalene is an unsettling molecule. Whilst it has a classical structure describable by a combination of Lewis-style two electron and four electron bonds, its NMR behaviour reveals it to be highly fluxional. This means that even at low temperatures, the position of these two-electron bonds rapidly shifts in the equilibrium shown below. Nevertheless, this dynamic behaviour can be frozen out at sufficiently low temperatures. But the barrier was sufficiently low that a challenge was set; could one achieve a system in which the barrier was removed entirely, to freeze out the coordinates of the molecule into a structure where the transition state (shown at the top) became instead a true minimum (bottom)? A similar challenge had been set for freezing out the transition state for the Sn2 reaction into a minimum, the topic also of a more recent post here. Here I explore how close we might be to achieving inversion of the semibullvalene [3,3] sigmatropic potential.


The Curtius rearrangement. One step or two?

Monday, August 6th, 2012

The Curtius reaction is represented in most chemistry texts and notes as following path (a) below. It is one of a general class of thermally induced rearrangement which might be described as elimination/migration (in a sense similar to this ring contraction migration/elimination), in this case implicating a nitrene intermediate if the two steps occur consecutively. Wikipedia is normally very much on the ball with this sort of thing, and a comment about the reaction mechanism there notes that current evidence prefers route (b), avoiding nitrene intermediacy (and hence formally removing this from examples of nitrene reactions).


Cyclopentadiene: a hydrocarbon at the crossroads of …

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

organic chemistry. It does not look like much, but this small little molecule brought us ferrocene, fluxional NMR, aromatic anions and valley-ridge inflexion points. You might not have heard of this last one, but in fact I mentioned the phenomenon in my post on nitrosobenzene. As for being at a crossroads, more like a Y-junction. Let me explain why.


More joining up of pieces. Stereocontrol in the ring opening of cyclopropenes.

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

Years ago, I was travelling from Cambridge to London on a train. I found myself sitting next to a chemist, and (as chemists do), he scribbled the following on a piece of paper. When I got to work the next day Vera (my student) was unleashed on the problem, and our thoughts were published[1]. That was then.



  1. M.S. Baird, J.R. Al Dulayymi, H.S. Rzepa, and V. Thoss, "An unusual example of stereoelectronic control in the ring opening of 3,3-disubstituted 1,2-dichlorocyclopropenes", Journal of the Chemical Society, Chemical Communications, pp. 1323, 1992.

The direct approach is not always the best: ethene + dichlorocarbene

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

The reaction between a carbene and an alkene to form a cyclopropane is about as simple a reaction as one can get. But I discussed before how simple little molecules (cyclopropenyl anion) can hold surprises. So consider this reaction:


Reductive ozonolysis: the interesting step.

Monday, May 7th, 2012

The mechanism of the reaction of alkenes known as ozonolysis was first set out in its modern form by Criegee. The crucial steps, (a), (b) and (d), are all pericyclic cycloaddition/eliminations. The last step (e) is known as reductive ozonolysis, and this step is often treated as an afterthought, part of the work-up of the reaction if you like (it is not illustrated in Criegee’s review for example). Here, I will attempt to show that it is actually a very interesting mechanistic step.


The Dieneone-phenol controversies.

Monday, April 30th, 2012

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.