Archive for the ‘Chiroptics’ Category

Determining absolute configuration: Cylindricine.

Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

Nature has produced most natural molecules as chiral objects, which means the molecule can come in two enantiomeric forms, each being the mirror image of the other. When a natural product is synthesised in a laboratory, a chiral synthesis means just one form is made, and then is compared with the natural product to see if it matches. Just such a process was following in the recent synthesis of cylindricine, a marine alkaloid[1] featured on the ACS molecule-of-the-week site. The authors noted that the absolute configuration of cylindricine as isolated naturally had remained unassigned, and as it happens one way of measuring the properties of the individual enantiomer – its optical rotation – had not been determined. So in part, the purpose of this synthesis was to determine the absolute configuration of this molecule. Here I explore this process.



  1. M. Piccichè, A. Pinto, R. Griera, J. Bosch, and M. Amat, "Total Synthesis of (−)-Cylindricine H", Organic Letters, vol. 24, pp. 5356-5360, 2022.

Molecule of the year 2021: Infinitene.

Thursday, December 16th, 2021

The annual “molecule of the year” results for 2021 are now available … and the winner is Infinitene.[1],[2] This is a benzocirculene in the form of a figure eight loop (the infinity symbol), a shape which is also called a lemniscate [3] after the mathematical (2D) function due to Bernoulli. The most common class of molecule which exhibits this (well known) motif are hexaphyrins (hexaporphyrins; porphyrin is a tetraphyrin)[4],[5],[6], many of which exhibit lemniscular topology as determined from a crystal structure. Straightforward annulenes have also been noted to display this[7] (as first suggested here for a [14]annulene[8]) and other molecules show higher-order Möbius forms such as trefoil knots.[9],[10] This new example uses twelve benzo groups instead of six porphyrin units to construct the lemniscate. So the motif is not new, but this is the first time it has been constructed purely from benzene rings. (more…)


  1. K. Itami, M. Krzeszewski, and H. Ito, "Infinitene: A Helically Twisted Figure-Eight [12]Circulene Topoisomer", 2021.
  2. M. Krzeszewski, H. Ito, and K. Itami, "Infinitene: A Helically Twisted Figure-Eight [12]Circulene Topoisomer", Journal of the American Chemical Society, vol. 144, pp. 862-871, 2021.
  3. C.S.M. Allan, and H.S. Rzepa, "Chiral Aromaticities. AIM and ELF Critical Point and NICS Magnetic Analyses of Möbius-Type Aromaticity and Homoaromaticity in Lemniscular Annulenes and Hexaphyrins", The Journal of Organic Chemistry, vol. 73, pp. 6615-6622, 2008.
  4. H. Rath, J. Sankar, V. PrabhuRaja, T.K. ChandrashekarPresent address: The D, B.S. Joshi, and R. Roy, "Figure-eight aromatic core-modified octaphyrins with six meso links: syntheses and structural characterization", Chemical Communications, pp. 3343, 2005.
  5. H. Rath, J. Sankar, V. PrabhuRaja, T.K. Chandrashekar, and B.S. Joshi, "Aromatic Core-Modified Twisted Heptaphyrins[]:  Syntheses and Structural Characterization", Organic Letters, vol. 7, pp. 5445-5448, 2005.
  6. S. Shimizu, N. Aratani, and A. Osuka, "meso‐Trifluoromethyl‐Substituted Expanded Porphyrins", Chemistry – A European Journal, vol. 12, pp. 4909-4918, 2006.
  7. T. Perera, F.R. Fronczek, and S.F. Watkins, "2,9,16,23-Tetrakis(1-methylethyl)-5,6,11,12,13,14,19,20,25,26,27,28-dodecadehydrotetrabenzo[a,e,k,o]cycloeicosene", Acta Crystallographica Section E Structure Reports Online, vol. 67, pp. o3493-o3493, 2011.
  8. H.S. Rzepa, "A Double-Twist Möbius-Aromatic Conformation of [14]Annulene", Organic Letters, vol. 7, pp. 4637-4639, 2005.
  9. G.R. Schaller, F. Topić, K. Rissanen, Y. Okamoto, J. Shen, and R. Herges, "Design and synthesis of the first triply twisted Möbius annulene", Nature Chemistry, vol. 6, pp. 608-613, 2014.
  10. S.M. Bachrach, and H.S. Rzepa, "Cycloparaphenylene Möbius trefoils", Chemical Communications, vol. 56, pp. 13567-13570, 2020.

More examples of crystal structures containing embedded linear chains of iodines.

Sunday, October 17th, 2021

The previous post described the fascinating 170-year history of a crystalline compound known as Herapathite and its connection to the mechanism of the Finkelstein reaction via the complex of Na+I2 (or Na22+I42-). Both compounds exhibit (approximately) linear chains of iodine atoms in their crystal structures, a connection which was discovered serendipitously. Here I pursue a rather more systematic way of tracking down similar compounds.


Herapathite: an example of (double?) serendipity.

Thursday, October 14th, 2021

On October 13, 2021, the historical group of the Royal Society of Chemistry organised a symposium celebrating ~150 years of the history of (molecular) chirality. We met for the first time in person for more than 18 months and were treated to a splendid and diverse program about the subject. The first speaker was Professor John Steeds from Bristol, talking about the early history of light and the discovery of its polarisation. When a slide was shown about herapathite[1] my “antennae” started vibrating. This is a crystalline substance made by combining elemental iodine with quinine in acidic conditions and was first discovered by William Herapath as long ago as 1852[2] in unusual circumstances. Now to the serendipity!



  1. B. Kahr, J. Freudenthal, S. Phillips, and W. Kaminsky, "Herapathite", Science, vol. 324, pp. 1407-1407, 2009.
  2. W.B. Herapath, "XXVI. On the optical properties of a newly-discovered salt of quinine, which crystalline substance possesses the power of polarizing a ray of light, like tourmaline, and at certain angles of rotation of depolarizing it, like selenite", The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, vol. 3, pp. 161-173, 1852.

L-Malic acid: An exercise in conformational analysis impacting upon optical rotatory dispersion (ORD).

Friday, December 20th, 2019

My momentum of describing early attempts to use optical rotation to correlate absolute configuration of small molecules such as glyceraldehyde and lactic acid with their optical rotations has carried me to L-Malic acid (below labelled as (S)-Malic acid).


Sign inversions in optical rotation as a function of wavelength (ORD spectra)

Monday, December 9th, 2019

I have been discussing some historical aspects of the absolute configuration of molecules and how it was connected to their optical rotations. The nomenclature for certain types of molecules such as sugars and less commonly amino acids includes the notation (+) to indicate that the specific optical rotation of the molecule has a positive (rather than a negative) value. What is rarely mentioned is the implicit wavelength at which the rotation is measured. Historically polarimeters operated at the so-called sodium Fraunhofer D-line (588.995nm, hence the name [α]D) and only much more recently at the mercury e-line (546.073nm). The former was used for uncoloured organic molecules, since it was realised early on that colour and optical rotation did not mix well. Here I take a closer look at this aspect by constructing the hypothetical molecule shown below.


What effect do explicit solvent molecules have on calculated optical rotation: D-(“+”)-Glyceraldehyde.

Saturday, December 7th, 2019

In this series of posts on optical rotations, I firstly noted Kirkwood’s 1937 attempt to correlate the optical rotation of butan-2-ol with its absolute configuration. He had identified as essential knowing the relative orientation (the term conformation was not yet in common use) of the two methyl groups (the modern terms are gauche vs anti) and also that of the hydroxyl group, noting that anisotropy from this group could influence his result (he had assumed it was linear, or axially symmetric). I then looked at D-(+)-glyceraldehyde, noting that this species itself has a strongly negative rotation and that it is the hydrated diol that results in a positive rotation and hence the (+) designation. Here I take another look at this latter system to see what effect adding explicit water molecules to the unhydrated form of glyceraldehyde might have on its computed rotation, on the premise that strong hydrogen bonds can also contribute anisotropy to the system.


The (+) in D-(+)-glyceraldehyde means it has a positive optical rotation? Wrong!

Friday, December 6th, 2019

Text books often show the following diagram, famously consolidated over many years by Emil Fischer from 1891 onwards. At the top sits D-(+)-glyceraldehyde, to which all the monosaccharides below are connected by painstaking chemical transformations.


Prediction preceding experiment in chemistry – how unlucky was John Kirkwood?

Saturday, November 30th, 2019

Some areas of science progressed via very famous predictions that were subsequently verified by experiments. Think of Einstein and gravitational waves or of Dirac and the positron. There are fewer well-known examples in chemistry; perhaps Watson and Crick’s prediction of the structure of DNA, albeit based on the interpretation of an existing experimental result. Here I take a look at a what if, that of John Kirkwood’s prediction of the absolute configuration of a small molecule based entirely on matching up the sign of a measured optical rotation with that predicted by (his) theory.


A golden age for (computational) spectroscopy.

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

I mentioned in my last post an unjustly neglected paper from that golden age of 1951-1953 by Kirkwood and co. They had shown that Fischer’s famous guess for the absolute configurations of organic chiral molecules was correct. The two molecules used to infer this are shown below.