Henry Rzepa's Blog Chemistry with a twist

April 1, 2017

What is the (calculated) structure of a norbornyl cation anion-pair in water?

In a comment appended to an earlier post, I mused about the magnitude of the force constant relating to the interconversion between a classical and a non-classical structure for the norbornyl cation. Most calculations indicate the force constant for an “isolated” symmetrical cation is +ve, which means it is a true minimum and not a transition state for a [1,2] shift. The latter would have been required if the species equilibrated between two classical carbocations. I then pondered what might happen to both the magnitude and the sign of this force constant if various layers of solvation and eventually a counter-ion were to be applied to the molecule, so that a bridge of sorts between the different states of solid crystals, superacid and aqueous solutions might be built.


March 23, 2017

Silyl cations?

It is not only the non-classical norbornyl cation that has proved controversial in the past. A colleague mentioned at lunch (thanks Paul!) that tri-coordinate group 14 cations such as R3Si+ have also had an interesting history.[1] Here I take a brief look at some of these systems.



  1. J.B. Lambert, Y. Zhao, H. Wu, W.C. Tse, and B. Kuhlmann, "The Allyl Leaving Group Approach to Tricoordinate Silyl, Germyl, and Stannyl Cations", Journal of the American Chemical Society, vol. 121, pp. 5001-5008, 1999. http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/ja990389u

March 10, 2017

George Olah and the norbornyl cation.

George Olah passed away on March 8th. He was part of the generation of scientists in the post-war 1950s who had access to chemical instrumentation that truly revolutionised chemistry. In particular he showed how the then newly available NMR spectroscopy illuminated structures of cations in solvents such “Magic acid“. The obituaries will probably mention his famous “feud” with H. C. Brown over the structure of the norbornyl cation (X=CH2+), implicated in the mechanism of many a solvolysis reaction that characterised the golden period of physical organic chemistry just before and after WWII. 


September 11, 2016

What’s in a name? Carbenes: a reality check.

To quote from Wikipedia: in chemistry, a carbene is a molecule containing a neutral carbon atom with a valence of two and two unshared valence electrons. The most ubiquitous type of carbene of recent times is the one shown below as 1, often referred to as a resonance stabilised or persistent carbene. This type is of interest because of its ability to act as a ligand to an astonishingly wide variety of metals, with many of the resulting complexes being important catalysts. The Wiki page on persistent carbenes shows them throughout in form 1 below, thus reinforcing the belief that they have a valence of two and by implication six (2×2 shared + 2 unshared) electrons in the valence shell of carbon. Here I consider whether this name is really appropriate.


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