Henry Rzepa's Blog Chemistry with a twist

September 1, 2018

Organocatalytic cyclopropanation of an enal: (computational) assignment of absolute configurations.

I am exploring the fascinating diverse facets of a recently published laboratory experiment for undergraduate students.[1] Previously I looked at a possible mechanistic route for the reaction between an enal (a conjugated aldehyde-alkene) and benzyl chloride catalysed by base and a chiral amine, followed by the use of NMR coupling constants to assign relative stereochemistries. Here I take a look at some chiroptical techniques which can be used to assign absolute stereochemistries (configurations).



  1. M. Meazza, A. Kowalczuk, S. Watkins, S. Holland, T.A. Logothetis, and R. Rios, "Organocatalytic Cyclopropanation of (E)-Dec-2-enal: Synthesis, Spectral Analysis and Mechanistic Understanding", Journal of Chemical Education, vol. 95, pp. 1832-1839, 2018. http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/acs.jchemed.7b00566

August 22, 2018

Tetrahedral carbon and cyclohexane.

Following the general recognition of carbon as being tetrahedrally tetravalent in 1869 (Paterno) and 1874 (Van’t Hoff and Le Bell), an early seminal exploitation of this to the conformation of cyclohexane was by Hermann Sachse in 1890.[1] This was verified when the Braggs in 1913[2], followed by an oft-cited article by Mohr in 1918,[3] established the crystal structure of diamond as comprising repeating rings in the chair conformation. So by 1926, you might imagine that the shape (or conformation as we would now call it) of cyclohexane would be well-known. No quite so for everyone!



  1. H. Sachse, "Ueber die geometrischen Isomerien der Hexamethylenderivate", Berichte der deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft, vol. 23, pp. 1363-1370, 1890. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/cber.189002301216
  2. "The structure of the diamond", Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series A, Containing Papers of a Mathematical and Physical Character, vol. 89, pp. 277-291, 1913. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspa.1913.0084
  3. E. Mohr, "Die Baeyersche Spannungstheorie und die Struktur des Diamanten", Journal f�r Praktische Chemie, vol. 98, pp. 315-353, 1918. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/prac.19180980123

June 1, 2017

Tautomeric polymorphism.

Conformational polymorphism occurs when a compound crystallises in two polymorphs differing only in the relative orientations of flexible groups (e.g. Ritonavir). At the Beilstein conference, Ian Bruno mentioned another type;  tautomeric polymorphism, where a compound can crystallise in two forms differing in the position of acidic protons. Here I explore three such examples.


April 6, 2017

The conformation of enols: revealed and explained.

Enols are simple compounds with an OH group as a substituent on a C=C double bond and with a very distinct conformational preference for the OH group. Here I take a look at this preference as revealed by crystal structures, with the theoretical explanation.


February 9, 2016

Bond stretch isomerism. Did this idea first surface 100 years ago?

The phenomenon of bond stretch isomerism, two isomers of a compound differing predominantly in just one bond length, is one of those chemical concepts that wax and occasionally wane.[1] Here I explore such isomerism for the elements Ge, Sn and Pb.



  1. J.A. Labinger, "Bond-stretch isomerism: a case study of a quiet controversy", Comptes Rendus Chimie, vol. 5, pp. 235-244, 2002. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1631-0748(02)01380-2

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