Posts Tagged ‘SN2’

The SN1 Mechanism for a third time. Exploration of the intrinsic reaction coordinate.

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

As the title hints, I have been here before. The SN1 solvolysis mechanism of t-butyl chloride was central to the flourishing of physical organic chemistry from the 1920s onwards, and it appears early on in most introductory lecture courses and text books. There we teach that it is a two-stage mechanism. Firstly the C-Cl bond heterolyses to form a stable tertiary carbocation intermediate, which in a second stage reacts with nucleophile (water) to form e.g. t-butanol. This is contrasted with the SN2 mechanism, where these two stages are conflated into a single concerted process, involving no intermediates. Here I explore an intrinsic reaction coordinate for the hydrolysis of t-butyl chloride which attempts to tease out whether this simple picture is realistic.