Archive for the ‘pericyclic’ Category

The thermal reactions … took precisely the opposite stereochemical course to that which we had predicted. A non-covalent-interaction view of the model.

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2021

Another foray into one of the more famous anecdotal chemistry “models”, the analysis of which led directly to the formulation of the WoodWard-Hoffmann (stereochemical) rules for pericyclic reactions. Previously, I tried to produce a modern computer model of what Woodward might have had to hand when discovering that the stereochemical outcome of a key reaction in his vitamin B12 synthesis was opposite to that predicted using his best model of the reaction.


Trimerous pericyclic reactions: what is the effect of changing the electron count by two?

Monday, November 2nd, 2020

In an earlier post, I pondered on how the “arrow pushing” for the thermal pericyclic reactions of some annulenes (cyclic conjugated hydrocarbons) could be represented in terms of either two separate electrocyclic reactions or of one cycloaddition reaction. Each reaction is governed by selection rules which can be stated in terms of the anticipated aromaticity of the pericyclic transition state as belonging to a 4n or a 4n+2 class. This in turn determines whether the topology of the transition state belongs to a class of aromatic species known as either Hückel or Möbius. Here I play with the observation that by adding or removing two electrons from the molecule, the two classes 4n and 4n+2 can be swapped. What happens to the aromaticities of the transition states if that is done?


Using a polar bond to flip: a follow up project.

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

In my earlier post on the topic, I discussed how inverting the polarity of the C-X bond from X=O to X=Be could flip the stereochemical course of the electrocyclic pericyclic reaction of a divinyl system. An obvious question would be: what happens at the half way stage, ie X=CH2? Well, here is the answer. divinylketon CH2 The reaction occurs in two stages (ωB97XD/6-311G(d,p)/SCRF=dichloromethane)[1] but overall is a concerted, albeit asynchronous, reaction. The initial stage is a conrotatory ring closure (as observed with X=O but opposite to X=Be), and reaching what we will call a HI (hidden intermediate). This HI clearly has zwitterionic character, and manifests its presence most obviously at IRC = -3.5 below. CH2CH2G The polarity of this HI is revealed by the dipole moment (6D) and molecular electrostatic potentials, below. The dipole vector goes from -ve to +ve, and the MEP clearly reveals the polarity below. cd7 C2-MEP This ionic HI however is not stable, and in the second stage of the reaction collapses to the neutral bicyclic hydrocarbon shown below. Overall, it amounts to a  2+2 cycloaddition, but with a very unusual pathway in which one C-C bond is very much formed before the other (which is how the reaction escapes the clutches of the Woodward-Hoffmann forbidden-ness). cd8 Why is all this worth this follow-up? Well, one can now start to “design” the reaction. All three carbon atoms with formal charges can be stabilised or destabilised with appropriate substituents. It should not be too difficult to stabilise out the HI into just an I(intermediate), or indeed to remove it from the profile. Nice perhaps for a group of students, who can partition up the substituents amongst themselves and discover if they have the desired effect. And would any of this tinkering change the stereochemical outcome?


  1. Henry S. Rzepa., "Gaussian Job Archive for C6H8", 2014.

Using a polar bond to flip the (stereochemical) outcome of a pericyclic reaction.

Monday, August 4th, 2014

The outcome of pericyclic reactions con depend most simply on three conditions, any two of which determine the third. Whether the catalyst is Δ or hν (heat or light), the topology determining any stereochemistry and the participating electron count (4n+2/4n). It is always neat to conjure up a simple switch to toggle these; heat or light is simple, but what are the options for toggling the electron count? Here is one I have contrived by playing a game with the periodic table. divinylketon The ring closure of a divinylketone is called the Nazarov reaction, it being promoted thermodynamically by coordination of a Lewis acid to atom X. Divinyl ketone can be regarded as a hidden pentadienyl cation, since the C=O bond is polarised Cδ+Oδ- in the time-honoured manner of organic chemistry. In this (formal) resonance form, it becomes part of a pentadienyl cation and can electrocyclise via a 4-electron reaction involving a stereochemical process known as conrotation. The new bond is formed antarafacially (from opposite faces) at the termini of the pentadienyl cation (ωB97XD/6-311G(d,p)/SCRF=dichloromethane.[1]). Note that for the uncatalysed reaction, the barrier is high and the reaction is endothermic but adding a BF3 to the oxygen lowers the barrier and removes the endothermicity.[2] nazarov-Oa nazarov-Oa nazarov-OBF3 So, one can play a game and ask what would happen if the polarity of the C=X bond were to be reversed. This means going left of oxygen in the periodic table, ending at Be.[3] The reaction has a high barrier, but it is strongly exothermic. However the most noteworthy aspect is that the stereochemistry of the electrocyclisation is now disrotatory, with suprafacial bond formation (from the bottom face in the animation below). The stereochemical outcome of this reaction has been flipped by reversing the polarity of the CX bond. nazarov-Beanazarov-Bea This little example shows how a thought game played using the periodic table can then be reality tested by solving appropriate quantum mechanical equations. In this instance, one is not going to rush into the laboratory to try to replicate the experiment, but it might help catalyse new thoughts amongst the readers of this blog.



  1. Henry S. Rzepa., "Gaussian Job Archive for C5H6O", 2014.
  2. Henry S. Rzepa., "Gaussian Job Archive for C5H6BF3O", 2014.
  3. Henry S. Rzepa., "Gaussian Job Archive for C5H6Be", 2014.

Refactoring my lecture notes on pericyclic reactions.

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

When I first started giving lectures to students, it was the students themselves that acted as human photocopiers, faithfully trying to duplicate what I was embossing on the lecture theatre blackboard with chalk. How times have changed! Here I thought I might summarise my latest efforts to refactor the material I deliver in one lecture course on pericyclic reactions (and because my notes have always been open, you can view them yourself if you wish).