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4 • Summary

4 • Summary

Cyclic molecules are so commonly encountered throughout organic and biological chemistry that it’s important to understand the consequences of their cyclic structures. Thus, we’ve taken a close look at cyclic structures in this chapter.

Cycloalkanes are saturated cyclic hydrocarbons with the general formula CnH2n. In contrast to open-chain alkanes, where nearly free rotation occurs around C−C bonds, rotation is greatly reduced in cycloalkanes. Disubstituted cycloalkanes can therefore exist as cis–trans isomers. The cis isomer has both substituents on the same side of the ring; the trans isomer has substituents on opposite sides. Cis–trans isomers are just one kind of stereoisomer—compounds that have the same connections between atoms but different three-dimensional arrangements.

Not all cycloalkanes are equally stable. Three kinds of strain contribute to the overall energy of a cycloalkane: (1) angle strain is the resistance of a bond angle to compression or expansion from the normal 109° tetrahedral value, (2) torsional strain is the energy cost of having neighboring C−H bonds eclipsed rather than staggered, and (3) steric strain is the repulsive interaction that arises when two groups attempt to occupy the same space.

Cyclopropane (115 kJ/mol strain) and cyclobutane (110.4 kJ/mol strain) have both angle strain and torsional strain. Cyclopentane is free of angle strain but has a substantial torsional strain due to its large number of eclipsing interactions. Both cyclobutane and cyclopentane pucker slightly away from planarity to relieve torsional strain.

Cyclohexane is strain-free because it adopts a puckered chair conformation, in which all bond angles are near 109° and all neighboring C–H bonds are staggered. Chair cyclohexane has two kinds of positions: axial and equatorial. Axial positions are oriented up and down, parallel to the ring axis, while equatorial positions lie in a belt around the equator of the ring. Each carbon atom has one axial and one equatorial position.

Chair cyclohexanes are conformationally mobile and can undergo a ring-flip, which interconverts axial and equatorial positions. Substituents on the ring are more stable in the equatorial position because axial substituents cause 1,3-diaxial interactions. The amount of 1,3-diaxial steric strain caused by an axial substituent depends on its size.

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