Henry Rzepa's Blog Chemistry with a twist

April 4, 2019

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

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. http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/ja01576a067

May 27, 2016

An alternative mechanism for nucleophilic substitution at silicon using a tetra-alkyl ammonium fluoride.

In the previous post, I explored the mechanism for nucleophilic substitution at a silicon centre proceeding via retention of configuration involving a Berry-like pseudorotation. Here I probe an alternative route involving inversion of configuration at the Si centre. Both stereochemical modes are known to occur, depending on the leaving group, solvent and other factors.[1],[2],[3]



  1. L. Wozniak, M. Cypryk, J. Chojnowski, and G. Lanneau, "Optically active silyl esters of phosphorus. II. Stereochemistry of reactions with nucleophiles", Tetrahedron, vol. 45, pp. 4403-4414, 1989. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0040-4020(01)89077-3
  2. L.H. Sommer, and H. Fujimoto, "Stereochemistry of asymmetric silicon. X. Solvent and reagent effects on stereochemistry crossover in alkoxy-alkoxy exchange reactions at silicon centers", Journal of the American Chemical Society, vol. 90, pp. 982-987, 1968. http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/ja01006a024
  3. D.N. Roark, and L.H. Sommer, "Dramatic stereochemistry crossover to retention of configuration with angle-strained asymmetric silicon", Journal of the American Chemical Society, vol. 95, pp. 969-971, 1973. http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/ja00784a081

August 26, 2015

Mesomeric resonance in substituted benzenes: a crystallographic reality check.

Previously, I showed how conjugation in dienes and diaryls can be visualised by inspecting bond lengths as a function of torsions. Here is another illustration, this time of the mesomeric resonance on a benzene ring induced by an electron donating substituent (an amino group) or an electron withdrawing substituent (cyano).


April 17, 2015

A new way of exploring the directing influence of (electron donating) substituents on benzene.

The knowledge that substituents on a benzene ring direct an electrophile engaged in a ring substitution reaction according to whether they withdraw or donate electrons is very old.[1] Introductory organic chemistry tells us that electron donating substituents promote the ortho and para positions over the meta. Here I try to recover some of this information by searching crystal structures.



  1. H.E. Armstrong, "XXVIII.—An explanation of the laws which govern substitution in the case of benzenoid compounds", J. Chem. Soc., Trans., vol. 51, pp. 258-268, 1887. http://dx.doi.org/10.1039/CT8875100258

Powered by WordPress