4.7 • Conformations of Monosubstituted Cyclohexanes
Even though cyclohexane rings flip rapidly between chair conformations at room temperature, the two conformations of a monosubstituted cyclohexane aren’t equally stable. In methylcyclohexane, for instance, the equatorial conformation is more stable than the axial conformation by 7.6 kJ/mol (1.8 kcal/mol). The same is true of other monosubstituted cyclohexanes: a substituent is almost always more stable in an equatorial position than in an axial position.
You might recall from your general chemistry course that it’s possible to calculate the percentages of two isomers at equilibrium using the equation ΔE = –RT ln K, where ΔE is the energy difference between isomers, R is the gas constant [8.315 J/(K·mol)], T is the Kelvin temperature, and K is the equilibrium constant between isomers. For example, an energy difference of 7.6 kJ/mol means that about 95% of methylcyclohexane molecules have an equatorial methyl group at any given instant while only 5% have an axial methyl group. Figure 4.13 plots the relationship between energy and isomer percentages.
The energy difference between axial and equatorial conformations is due to steric strain caused by 1,3-diaxial interactions. The axial methyl group on C1 is too close to the axial hydrogens three carbons away on C3 and C5, resulting in 7.6 kJ/mol of steric strain (Figure 4.14).
The 1,3-diaxial steric strain in substituted methylcyclohexane is already familiar—we saw it previously as the steric strain between methyl groups in gauche in Section 3.7. Gauche butane is less stable than anti butane by 3.8 kJ/mol (0.9 kcal/mol) because of steric interference between hydrogen atoms on the two methyl groups. Comparing a four-carbon fragment of axial methylcyclohexane with gauche butane shows that the steric interaction is the same in both (Figure 4.15). Because axial methylcyclohexane has two such interactions, it has 2 × 3.8 = 7.6 kJ/mol of steric strain. Equatorial methylcyclohexane has no such interactions and is therefore more stable.
The exact amount of 1,3-diaxial steric strain in a given substituted cyclohexane depends on the nature and size of the substituent, as indicated in Table 4.1. Not surprisingly, the amount of steric strain increases through the series H3C− < CH3CH2− < (CH3)2CH–<< (CH3)3C−, paralleling the increasing size of the alkyl groups. Note that the values given in Table 4.1 refer to 1,3-diaxial interactions of the substituent with a single hydrogen atom. These values must be doubled to arrive at the amount of strain in a monosubstituted cyclohexane.