Archive for the ‘pericyclic’ Category

Three-for-one: a pericyclic brain teaser.

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

A game one can play with pericyclic reactions is to ask students to identify what type a given example is. So take for example the reaction below.


A simple pericyclic reaction encapsulating the four thermal selection rules.

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

As my previous post hints, I am performing my annual spring-clean of lecture notes on pericyclic reactions. Such reactions, and their stereochemistry, are described by a set of selection rules. I am always on the lookout for a simple example which can most concisely summarise these rules. The (hypothetical) one shown below I think nicely achieves this, and raises some interesting issues in the process.14vs12


Refactoring my lecture notes on pericyclic reactions.

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

When I first started giving lectures to students, it was the students themselves that acted as human photocopiers, faithfully trying to duplicate what I was embossing on the lecture theatre blackboard with chalk. How times have changed! Here I thought I might summarise my latest efforts to refactor the material I deliver in one lecture course on pericyclic reactions (and because my notes have always been open, you can view them yourself if you wish).


Avoided (pericyclic) anti-aromaticity: Reactions of t-butyl-hydroxycarbene.

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

Not long ago, I described a cyclic carbene in which elevating the carbene lone pair into a π-system transformed it from a formally 4n-antiaromatic π-cycle into a 4n+2 aromatic π-cycle. From an entirely different area of chemistry, another example of this behaviour emerges; Schreiner’s[1] trapping and reactions of t-butyl-hydroxycarbene, as described on Steve Bachrach’s blog. A point I often make is that chemistry is all about connections, and so here I will discuss such a connection.schreiner



  1. D. Ley, D. Gerbig, and P.R. Schreiner, "Tunneling control of chemical reactions: C–H insertion versus H-tunneling in tert-butylhydroxycarbene", Chem. Sci., vol. 4, pp. 677-684, 2013.

Mechanism of the Boekelheide rearrangement

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

A reader asked me about the mechanism of the reaction of 2-picoline N-oxide with acetic anhydride to give 2-acetoxymethylpyridine (the Boekelheide Rearrangement[1]). He wrote ” I don’t understand why the system should prefer to go via fragmentation-recombination (… the evidence being that oxygen labelling shows scrambling) when there is an easy concerted pathway available (… a [3,3]sigmatropic shift). Furthermore, is it possible for two pathways to co-exist?” Here is how computation might enlighten us.



  1. A. Massaro, A. Mordini, A. Mingardi, J. Klein, and D. Andreotti, "A New Sequential Intramolecular Cyclization Based on the Boekelheide Rearrangement", European Journal of Organic Chemistry, vol. 2011, pp. 271-279, 2010.

Woodward’s symmetry considerations applied to electrocyclic reactions.

Monday, May 20th, 2013

Sometimes the originators of seminal theories in chemistry write a personal and anecdotal account of their work. Niels Bohr[1] was one such and four decades later Robert Woodward wrote “The conservation of orbital symmetry” (Chem. Soc. Special Publications (Aromaticity), 1967, 21, 217-249; it is not online and so no doi can be given). Much interesting chemistry is described there, but (like Bohr in his article), Woodward lists no citations at the end, merely giving attributions by name. Thus the following chemistry (p 236 of this article) is attributed to a Professor Fonken, and goes as follows (excluding the structure in red):



  1. N. Bohr, "Der Bau der Atome und die physikalischen und chemischen Eigenschaften der Elemente", Zeitschrift f�r Physik, vol. 9, pp. 1-67, 1922.

A Disrotatory 4n+2 electron anti-aromatic Möbius transition state for a thermal electrocyclic reaction.

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Mauksch and Tsogoeva have recently published an article illustrating how a thermal electrocyclic reaction can proceed with distoratory ring closure, whilst simultaneously also exhibiting 4n electron Möbius-aromatic character[1]. Why is this remarkable? Because the simple Woodward-Hoffmann rules state that a disrotatory thermal electrocyclic reaction should proceed via a Hückel-aromatic 4n+2 electron transition state. Famously, Woodward and Hoffmann stated there were no exceptions to this rule. Yet here we apparently have one! So what is the more fundamental? The disrotatory character, or the 4n/Möbius character in the example above? Mauksch and Tsogoeva are in no doubt; it is the former that gives, and the latter is correct.



  1. M. Mauksch, and S. Tsogoeva, "A Preferred Disrotatory 4n Electron Möbius Aromatic Transition State for a Thermal Electrocyclic Reaction", Angewandte Chemie International Edition, vol. 48, pp. 2959-2963, 2009.