Henry Rzepa's Blog Chemistry with a twist

July 21, 2021

Dimerisation of cyclopropenylidene: what are the correct “curly arrows” for this process?

Filed under: Curly arrows,reaction mechanism — Henry Rzepa @ 3:45 pm

In another post, a discussion arose about whether it might be possible to trap cyclopropenylidene to form a small molecule with a large dipole moment. Doing so assumes that cyclopropenylidene has a sufficiently long lifetime to so react, before it does so with itself to e.g. dimerise. That dimerisation has an energy profile shown below, with a free energy of activation of 14.4 kcal/mol, so a facile reaction that will indeed compete with reaction with Ph-I+-CC.


October 8, 2020

Trimerous pericyclic reactions.

Filed under: Curly arrows,pericyclic — Henry Rzepa @ 10:06 am

I occasionally spot an old blog that emerges, if only briefly, as “trending”. In this instance, only the second blog I ever wrote here, way back in 2009 as a follow up to this article.[1] With something of that age, its always worth revisiting to see if any aspect needs updating or expanding, given the uptick in interest. It related to the observation that there can be more than one way of expressing the “curly arrows” for some pericyclic reactions. These alternatives may each represent different types of such reactions, hence leading to a conundrum for students of how to label the mechanism. I had noted in that blog that I intended to revisit the topic and so a mere eleven years later here it is!



  1. H.S. Rzepa, "The Aromaticity of Pericyclic Reaction Transition States", Journal of Chemical Education, vol. 84, pp. 1535, 2007. http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/ed084p1535

June 10, 2020

Curly arrows in the 21st Century. Proton-coupled electron transfers.

Filed under: Curly arrows,reaction mechanism — Henry Rzepa @ 4:53 pm

One of the most fascinating and important articles dealing with curly arrows I have seen is that by Klein and Knizia on the topic of C-H bond activations using an iron catalyst.[1] These are so-called high spin systems with unpaired electrons and the mechanism of C-H activation involves both double headed (two electron) and fish-hook (single electron) movement. Here I focus on a specific type of reaction, the concerted proton-coupled-electron transfer or cPCET, as illustrated below. These sorts of reactions happen also to be of considerable biological importance, including e.g. the mechanism of photosynthesis and many other important transformations.



  1. J.E.M.N. Klein, and G. Knizia, "cPCET versus HAT: A Direct Theoretical Method for Distinguishing X-H Bond-Activation Mechanisms", Angewandte Chemie International Edition, vol. 57, pp. 11913-11917, 2018. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/anie.201805511

May 27, 2020

The first ever curly arrows. Revisited with some crystal structure mining.

Filed under: crystal_structure_mining,Curly arrows — Henry Rzepa @ 9:58 am

With the current global lockdown, and students along with everyone else staying at home, I have noticed some old posts of mine are getting more attention than normal. One of these is an analysis I did in 2012 of Robinson’s original curly arrow illustration.[1] That and the fact that I am about to give a lecture on what I call my autobiographical journey discovering them, to our own students here (remotely of course), has prompted me to revisit my original discussion.



  1. "Forthcoming events", Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry, vol. 43, pp. 1295-1298, 1924. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jctb.5000435208

May 8, 2020

Choreographing a chemical ballet: what happens if you change one of the actors?

Filed under: Curly arrows,reaction mechanism — Henry Rzepa @ 9:19 am

Earlier, I explored the choreography or “timing”, of what might be described as the curly arrows for a typical taught reaction mechanism, the 1,4-addition of a nucleophile to an unsaturated carbonyl compound (scheme 1). I am now going to explore the consequences of changing one of the actors by adding the nucleophile to an unsaturated imine rather than carbonyl compound (scheme 2). 


April 13, 2020

Choreographing a chemical ballet: a story of the mechanism of 1,4-Michael addition.

Filed under: crystal_structure_mining,Curly arrows,reaction mechanism — Henry Rzepa @ 5:31 pm

A reaction can be thought of as molecular dancers performing moves. A choreographer is needed to organise the performance into the ballet that is a reaction mechanism. Here I explore another facet of the Michael addition of a nucleophile to a conjugated carbonyl compound. The performers this time are p-toluene thiol playing the role of nucleophile, adding to but-2-enal (green) acting as the electrophile and with either water or ammonia serving the role of a catalytic base to help things along.


March 29, 2020

Substituent effects on the mechanism of Michael 1,4-Nucleophilic addition.

Filed under: Curly arrows,reaction mechanism — Henry Rzepa @ 6:25 am

In the previous post, I looked at the mechanism for 1,4-nucleophilic addition to an activated alkene (the Michael reaction). The model nucleophile was malonaldehyde after deprotonation and the model electrophile was acrolein (prop-2-enal), with the rate determining transition state being carbon-carbon bond formation between the two, accompanied by proton transfer to the oxygen of the acrolein.


February 18, 2019

The Graham reaction: Deciding upon a reasonable mechanism and curly arrow representation.

Students learning organic chemistry are often asked in examinations and tutorials to devise the mechanisms (as represented by curly arrows) for the core corpus of important reactions, with the purpose of learning skills that allow them to go on to improvise mechanisms for new reactions. A common question asked by students is how should such mechanisms be presented in an exam in order to gain full credit? Alternatively, is there a single correct mechanism for any given reaction? To which the lecturer or tutor will often respond that any reasonable mechanism will receive such credit. The implication is that a mechanism is “reasonable” if it “follows the rules”. The rules are rarely declared fully, but seem to be part of the absorbed but often mysterious skill acquired in learning the subject. These rules also include those governing how the curly arrows should be drawn. Here I explore this topic using the Graham reaction.[1]



  1. W.H. Graham, "The Halogenation of Amidines. I. Synthesis of 3-Halo- and Other Negatively Substituted Diazirines1", Journal of the American Chemical Society, vol. 87, pp. 4396-4397, 1965. http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/ja00947a040

December 4, 2013

A curly-arrow pushing manual

Filed under: Curly arrows,General,reaction mechanism — Henry Rzepa @ 4:05 pm

I have several times used arrow pushing on these blogs. But since the rules for this convention appear to be largely informal, and there appears to be no definitive statement of them, I thought I would try to produce this for our students. This effort is here shared on my blog. It is what I refer to as the standard version; an advanced version is in preparation. Such formality might come as a surprise to some; arrow-pushing is often regarded as far too approximate to succumb to any definition, although it is of course often examined.


August 25, 2013

Experimental evidence for “hidden intermediates”? Epoxidation of ethene by peracid.

The concept of a “hidden intermediate” in a reaction pathway has been promoted by Dieter Cremer[1] and much invoked on this blog. When I used this term in a recent article of ours[2], a referee tried to object, saying it was not in common use in chemistry. The term clearly has an image problem. A colleague recently sent me an article to read (thanks Chris!) about isotope effects in the epoxidation of ethene[3] and there I discovered a nice example of hidden intermediates which I share with you now.



  1. E. Kraka, and D. Cremer, "Computational Analysis of the Mechanism of Chemical Reactions in Terms of Reaction Phases: Hidden Intermediates and Hidden Transition States", Accounts of Chemical Research, vol. 43, pp. 591-601, 2010. http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/ar900013p
  2. H.S. Rzepa, and C. Wentrup, "Mechanistic Diversity in Thermal Fragmentation Reactions: A Computational Exploration of CO and CO2 Extrusions from Five-Membered Rings", The Journal of Organic Chemistry, vol. 78, pp. 7565-7574, 2013. http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/jo401146k
  3. T. Koerner, H. Slebocka-Tilk, and R.S. Brown, "Experimental Investigation of the Primary and Secondary Deuterium Kinetic Isotope Effects for Epoxidation of Alkenes and Ethylene with m-Chloroperoxybenzoic Acid", The Journal of Organic Chemistry, vol. 64, pp. 196-201, 1998. http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/jo981652x
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