More aromatic species with four atoms. B4 and N4.

March 19th, 2022

I discussed in the previous post the small molecule C4 and how of the sixteen valence electrons, eight were left over after forming C-C σ-bonds which partitioned into six σ and two π. So now to consider B4. This has four electrons less, and now the partitioning is two σ and two π (CCSD(T)/Def2-TZVPPD calculation, FAIR DOI: 10.14469/hpc/10157). Again both these sets fit the Hückel 4n+2 rule (n=0).
Read the rest of this entry »

An unusually small (doubly) aromatic molecule: C4.

March 15th, 2022

When you talk π-aromaticity, benzene is the first molecule that springs to mind. But there are smaller molecules that can carry this property; cyclopropenylidene (five atoms) is the smallest in terms of atom count I could think of until now, apart that is from H3+ which is the smallest possible molecule that carries σ-aromaticity. So here I have found what I think is an even smaller aromatic molecule containing only four carbon atoms. And it is not only π-aromatic but σ-aromatic.

Read the rest of this entry »

Raw data: the evolution of FAIR data and crystallography.

March 1st, 2022

Scientific data in chemistry has come a long way in the last few decades. Originally entangled into scientific articles in the form of tables of numbers or diagrams, it was (partially) disentangled into supporting information when journals became electronic in the late 1990s.[1] The next phase was the introduction of data repositories in the early naughties. Now associated with innovative commercial companies such as Figshare and later the non-commercial Zenodo, such repositories have also spread to institutional form such as eg the earlier SPECTRa project of 2006[2] and still evolving.[3] Perhaps the best known, and certainly one of the oldest examples of curated structural data in chemistry is the CCDC (Cambridge crystallographic data centre) CSD (Cambridge structural database) which has been operating for more than 55 years now, even before the online era! Curation here is the important context, since there you will find crystal diffraction data which has been refined into a structural model, firstly by the authors reporting the structure and then by CSD who amongst other operations, validate the associated data using a utility called CheckCIF.[4] What perhaps is not realised by most users of this data source is that the original or “raw” data, as obtained from a X-ray diffractometer and which the CSD data is derived from, is not actually available from the CSD. This primary form of crystallographic data is the topic of this post.

Read the rest of this entry »


  1. A.M. Hunter, and A.B. Smith, "Review of Supporting Information at Organic Letters", Organic Letters, vol. 17, pp. 2867-2869, 2015.
  2. J. Downing, P. Murray-Rust, A.P. Tonge, P. Morgan, H.S. Rzepa, F. Cotterill, N. Day, and M.J. Harvey, "SPECTRa: The Deposition and Validation of Primary Chemistry Research Data in Digital Repositories", Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling, vol. 48, pp. 1571-1581, 2008.
  3. M.J. Harvey, A. McLean, and H.S. Rzepa, "A metadata-driven approach to data repository design", Journal of Cheminformatics, vol. 9, 2017.
  4. A.L. Spek, "Structure validation in chemical crystallography", Acta Crystallographica Section D Biological Crystallography, vol. 65, pp. 148-155, 2009.

Chasing ever higher bond orders; the strange case of beryllium.

February 7th, 2022

Ever since the concept of a shared two-electron bond was conjured by Gilbert N. Lewis in 1916,[1] chemists have been fascinated by the related concept of a bond order (the number of such bonds that two atoms can participate in, however a bond is defined) and pushing it ever higher for pairs of like-atoms. Lewis first showed in 1916[1] how two carbon atoms could share two, four or six electrons to achieve a bond order of up to three. It took quite a few decades for this to be extended to four for carbon (and nitrogen) and that only with some measure of controversy and dispute (for one recent brief summary, see[2]).

Read the rest of this entry »


  1. G.N. Lewis, "THE ATOM AND THE MOLECULE.", Journal of the American Chemical Society, vol. 38, pp. 762-785, 1916.
  2. H.S. Rzepa, "Routes involving no free C2 in a DFT-computed mechanistic model for the reported room-temperature chemical synthesis of C2", Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, vol. 23, pp. 12630-12636, 2021.

Data base or Data repository? – A brief and very selective history of data management in chemistry.

January 26th, 2022

Way back in the late 1980s or so, research groups in chemistry started to replace the filing of their paper-based research data by storing it in an easily retrievable digital form. This required a computer database and initially these were accessible only on specific dedicated computers in the laboratory. These gradually changed from the 1990s onwards into being accessible online, so that more than one person could use them in different locations. At least where I worked, the infrastructures to set up such databases were mostly not then available as part of the standard research provisions and so had to be installed and maintained by the group itself. The database software took many different forms and it was not uncommon for each group in a department to come up with a different solution that suited its needs best. The result was a proliferation of largely non-interoperable solutions which did not communicate with each other. Each database had to be searched locally and there could be ten or more such resources in a department. The knowledge of how the system operated also often resided in just one person, which tended to evaporate when this guru left the group.

Read the rest of this entry »

Quantum chemistry interoperability (library): another step towards FAIR data.

January 1st, 2022

To be FAIR, data has to be not only Findable and Accessible, but straightforwardly Interoperable. One of the best examples of interoperability in chemistry comes from the domain of quantum chemistry. This strives to describe a molecule by its electron density distribution, from which many interesting properties can then be computed. The process is split into two parts:

Read the rest of this entry »

Molecule of the year 2021: Infinitene.

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. Read the rest of this entry »


  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.

Protein-Biotin complexes. Crystal structure mining.

December 12th, 2021

In the previous post, I showed some of the diverse “non-classical”interactions between Biotin and a protein where it binds very strongly. Here I take a look at two of these interactions to discover how common they are in small molecule structures.

Read the rest of this entry »

Biotin’s biggest lesson is the importance of nonclassical H-bonds in protein−ligand complexes.

November 27th, 2021

The title comes from the abstract of an article[1] analysing why Biotin (vitamin B7) is such a strong and effective binder to proteins, with a free energy of (non-covalent) binding approaching 21 kcal/mol. The author argues that an accumulation of both CH-π and CH-O together with more classical hydrogen bonds and augmented by a sulfur centered hydrogen bond, oxyanion holes and water solvation, accounts for this large binding energy.

Read the rest of this entry »


  1. D.B. McConnell, "Biotin’s Lessons in Drug Design", Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, vol. 64, pp. 16319-16327, 2021.

First came Molnupiravir – now there is Paxlovid as a SARS-CoV-2 protease inhibitor. An NCI analysis of the ligand.

November 13th, 2021

Earlier this year, Molnupiravir hit the headlines as a promising antiviral drug. This is now followed by Paxlovid, which is the first small molecule to be aimed by design at the SAR-CoV-2 protein and which is reported as reducing greatly the risk of hospitalization or death when given within three days of symptoms appearing in high risk patients.

Read the rest of this entry »