Posts Tagged ‘Organic chemistry’

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.


Organocatalytic cyclopropanation of an enal: (computational) product stereochemical assignments.

Sunday, August 26th, 2018

In the previous post, I investigated the mechanism of cyclopropanation of an enal using a benzylic chloride using a quantum chemistry based procedure. Here I take a look at the NMR spectra of the resulting cyclopropane products, with an evaluation of the original stereochemical assignments.[1]



  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.

Organocatalytic cyclopropanation of an enal: (computational) mechanistic understanding.

Saturday, August 25th, 2018

Symbiosis between computation and experiment is increasingly evident in pedagogic journals such as J. Chemical Education. Thus an example of original laboratory experiments[1],[2] that later became twinned with a computational counterpart.[3] So when I spotted this recent lab experiment[4] I felt another twinning approaching.



  1. A. Burke, P. Dillon, K. Martin, and T.W. Hanks, "Catalytic Asymmetric Epoxidation Using a Fructose-Derived Catalyst", Journal of Chemical Education, vol. 77, pp. 271, 2000.
  2. J. Hanson, "Synthesis and Use of Jacobsen's Catalyst: Enantioselective Epoxidation in the Introductory Organic Laboratory", Journal of Chemical Education, vol. 78, pp. 1266, 2001.
  3. K.K.(. Hii, H.S. Rzepa, and E.H. Smith, "Asymmetric Epoxidation: A Twinned Laboratory and Molecular Modeling Experiment for Upper-Level Organic Chemistry Students", Journal of Chemical Education, vol. 92, pp. 1385-1389, 2015.
  4. 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.

The “White City Trio” – The formation of an amide from an acid and an amine in non-polar solution (updated).

Wednesday, August 8th, 2018

White City is a small area in west london created as an exhibition site in 1908, morphing over the years into an Olympic games venue, a greyhound track, the home nearby of the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) and most recently the new western campus for Imperial College London. The first Imperial department to move into the MSRH (Molecular Sciences Research Hub) building is chemistry. As a personal celebration of this occasion, I here dedicate three transition states located during my first week of occupancy there, naming them the White City trio following earlier inspiration by a string trio and their own instruments.


How FAIR are the data associated with the 2017 Molecules-of-the-Year?

Wednesday, March 7th, 2018

C&EN has again run a vote for the 2017 Molecules of the year. Here I take a look not just at these molecules, but at how FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable) the data associated with these molecules actually is.


Are diazomethanes hypervalent molecules? An attempt into more insight by more “tuning” with substituents.

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017

Recollect the suggestion that diazomethane has hypervalent character[1]. When I looked into this, I came to the conclusion that it probably was mildly hypervalent, but on carbon and not nitrogen. Here I try some variations with substituents to see what light if any this casts.



  1. M.C. Durrant, "A quantitative definition of hypervalency", Chemical Science, vol. 6, pp. 6614-6623, 2015.

Dyotropic Ring Expansion: more mechanistic reality checks.

Sunday, October 1st, 2017

I noted in my WATOC conference report a presentation describing the use of calculated reaction barriers (and derived rate constants) as mechanistic reality checks. Computations, it was claimed, have now reached a level of accuracy whereby a barrier calculated as being 6 kcal/mol too high can start ringing mechanistic alarm bells. So when I came across this article[1] in which calculated barriers for a dyotropic ring expansion observed under mild conditions in dichloromethane as solvent were used to make mechanistic inferences, I decided to explore the mechanism a bit further.



  1. H. Santalla, O.N. Faza, G. Gómez, Y. Fall, and C. Silva López, "From Hydrindane to Decalin: A Mild Transformation through a Dyotropic Ring Expansion", Organic Letters, vol. 19, pp. 3648-3651, 2017.

The π-π stacking of aromatic rings: what is their closest parallel approach?

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

Layer stacking in structures such as graphite is well-studied. The separation between the π-π planes is ~3.35Å, which is close to twice the estimated van der Waals (vdW) radius of carbon (1.7Å). But how much closer could such layers get, given that many other types of relatively weak interaction such as hydrogen bonding can contract the vdW distance sum by up to ~0.8Å or even more? This question was prompted by the separation calculated for the ion-pair cyclopropenium cyclopentadienide (~2.6-2.8Å).