Posts Tagged ‘chemical reaction’

Smoke and mirrors. All is not what it seems with this Sn2 reaction!

Thursday, April 4th, 2019

Previously, I explored the Graham reaction to form a diazirine. The second phase of the reaction involved an Sn2′ displacement of N-Cl forming C-Cl. Here I ask how facile the simpler displacement of C-Cl by another chlorine might be and whether the mechanism is Sn2 or the alternative Sn1. The reason for posing this question is that as an Sn1 reaction, simply ionizing off the chlorine to form a diazacyclopropenium cation might be a very easy process. Why? Because the resulting cation is analogous to the cyclopropenium cation, famously proposed by Breslow as the first example of a 4n+2 aromatic ring for which the value of n is zero and not 1 as for benzene.[1] Another example of a famous “Sn1” reaction is the solvolysis of t-butyl chloride to form the very stable tertiary carbocation and chloride anion (except in fact that it is not an Sn1 reaction but an Sn2 one!)



  1. R. Breslow, "SYNTHESIS OF THE s-TRIPHENYLCYCLOPROPENYL CATION", Journal of the American Chemical Society, vol. 79, pp. 5318-5318, 1957.

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

Monday, February 18th, 2019

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.

Free energy relationships and their linearity: a test example.

Sunday, January 13th, 2019

Linear free energy relationships (LFER) are associated with the dawn of physical organic chemistry in the late 1930s and its objectives in understanding chemical reactivity as measured by reaction rates and equilibria.


Epoxidation of ethene: a new substituent twist.

Friday, December 21st, 2018

Five years back, I speculated about the mechanism of the epoxidation of ethene by a peracid, concluding that kinetic isotope effects provided interesting evidence that this mechanism is highly asynchronous and involves a so-called “hidden intermediate”. Here I revisit this reaction in which a small change is applied to the atoms involved.


Early “curly” (reaction) arrows. Those of Ingold in 1926.

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2018

In 2012, I wrote a story of the first ever reaction curly arrows, attributed to Robert Robinson in 1924. At the time there was a great rivalry between him and another UK chemist, Christopher Ingold, with the latter also asserting his claim for their use. As part of the move to White City a lot of bookshelves were cleared out from the old buildings in South Kensington, with the result that yesterday a colleague brought me a slim volume they had found entitled The Journal of the Imperial College Chemical Society (Volume 6). 


Reaction coordinates vs Dynamic trajectories as illustrated by an example reaction mechanism.

Monday, March 20th, 2017

The example a few posts back of how methane might invert its configuration by transposing two hydrogen atoms illustrated the reaction mechanism by locating a transition state and following it down in energy using an intrinsic reaction coordinate (IRC). Here I explore an alternative method based instead on computing a molecular dynamics trajectory (MD).


Molecule orbitals as indicators of reactivity: bromoallene.

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

Bromoallene is a pretty simple molecule, with two non-equivalent double bonds. How might it react with an electrophile, say dimethyldioxirane (DMDO) to form an epoxide?[1] Here I explore the difference between two different and very simple approaches to predicting its reactivity. bromoallene



  1. D. Christopher Braddock, A. Mahtey, H.S. Rzepa, and A.J.P. White, "Stable bromoallene oxides", Chemical Communications, vol. 52, pp. 11219-11222, 2016.

Secrets of a university tutor: dissection of a reaction mechanism.

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Its a bit like a jigsaw puzzle in reverse, finding out to disassemble a chemical reaction into the pieces it is made from, and learning the rules that such reaction jigsaws follow. The following takes about 45-50 minutes to follow through with a group of students.