Posts Tagged ‘synthetic chemist’

Gravitational fields and asymmetric synthesis

Saturday, November 20th, 2010
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Our understanding of science mostly advances in small incremental and nuanced steps (which can nevertheless be controversial) but sometimes the steps can be much larger jumps into the unknown, and hence potentially more controversial as well. More accurately, it might be e.g. relatively unexplored territory for say a chemist, but more familiar stomping ground for say a physicist. Take the area of asymmetric synthesis, which synthetic chemists would like to feel they understand. But combine this with gravity, which is outside of their normal comfort zone, albeit one we presume is understood by physicists. Around 1980, chemists took such a large jump by combining the two, in an article spectacularly entitled Asymmetric synthesis in a confined vortex; Gravitational fields and asymmetric synthesis (DOI: 10.1021/ja00521a068). Their experiment was actually quite simple. They treated isophorone (a molecule with a plane of symmetry and hence achiral) with hydrogen peroxide and then measured the optical rotation.

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Anatomy of an asymmetric reaction. The Strecker synthesis, part 1.

Monday, May 24th, 2010
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The assembly of a molecule for a purpose has developed into an art form, one arguably (chemists always argue) that is approaching its 100th birthday (DOI: 10.1002/cber.191104403216) celebrating Willstätter’s report of the synthesis of cyclo-octatetraene. Most would agree it reached its most famous achievement with Woodward’s synthesis of quinine (DOI: 10.1021/ja01221a051) in 1944. To start with, the art was in knowing how and in which order to join up all the bonds of a target. The first synthesis in which (relative) stereocontrol of those bonds was the primary objective was reported in 1951 (10.1021/ja01098a039). The art can be taken one step further. It involves control of the absolute stereochemistry, involving making one enantiomer specifically (rather than the mirror image, which of course has the same relative stereochemistry). Nowadays, a synthesis is considered flawed if the enantiomeric excess (of the desired vs the undesired isomer) of such a synthesis does not achieve at least ~98%. It is routine. But ask the people who design such syntheses if they know exactly the reasons why their reaction has succeeded, you may get a less precise answer (or just a lot of handwaving; chemists also like to wave their hands as well as argue).

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