Organic Chemistry/Foundational concepts of organic chemistry/Resonance

<< Electron dot structures | Acids and bases >>

Resonance edit

Resonance refers to structures that are not easily represented by a single electron dot structure but that are intermediates between two or more drawn structures.

Resonance is easily misunderstood in part because of the way certain chemistry textbooks attempt to explain the concept. In science, analogies can provide an aid to understanding, but analogies should not be taken too literally. It is sometimes best to use analogies to introduce a topic, but then explain the differences and inevitable complications as further details on a complicated subject. This is the case for resonance.

Just as entropic principles cannot be applied to individual molecules, it is impossible to say whether or not any given individual molecule with a resonance structure is literally in one configuration or another. The actual situation on the molecular scale is that each configuration of the molecule contributes a percentage to the possible configurations, resulting in a "blend" of the possible structures. Changes in molecular shape occur so rapidly, and on such a tiny scale, that the actual physical locations of individual electrons cannot be precisely known (due to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle). The result of all that complexity is simply this: molecules with resonance structures are treated as mixtures of their multiple forms, with a greater percentage of probability given to the most stable configurations.

The nuclei of the atoms are not moving when they are represented by resonance structure drawings. Rather, the electrons are portrayed as if they were moving instead. The true situation is that no one can say for certain exactly where any individual electron is at any specific moment, but rather electron location can be expressed as a probability only. What a dot structure is actually showing is where electrons almost certainly are located, therefore resonance structures indicate a split in those same probabilities. Chemists are absolutely certain where electrons are located when one carbon bonds four hydrogens (methane), but it is less certain where precisely any given electron is located when six carbons bond six hydrogens in a ring structrue (benzene). Resonance is an expression of this uncertainty, and is therefore the average of probable locations.

Resonance structures are stabilizing in molecules because they allow electrons to lengthen their wavelengths and thereby lower their energy. This is the reason that benzene (C6H6) has a lower heat of formation than organic chemists would predict, not accounting for resonance. Other aromatic molecules have a similar stability, which leads to an overall entropic preference for aromaticity (a subject that will be covered fully in a later chapter). Resonance stability plays a major role in organic chemistry due to resonant molecules' lower energy of formation, so students of organic chemistry should understand this effect and practice spotting molecules stabilized by resonant forms.

In the Lewis structures above, carbonate (CO32-) has a resonance structure. Using laboratory procedures to measure the bond length of each bond, we do not find that one bond is shorter than the two others (remember, double bonds are shorter than single bonds), but instead that all bonds are of the same length somewhere between the length of typical double and single bonds.

Resonance Structures edit

Scheme 1. Resonance structures of Benzene

Resonance structures are diagrammatic tools used predominately in organic chemistry to symbolize resonant bonds between atoms in molecules. The electron density of these bonds is spread over the molecule, also known as the delocalization of electrons. Resonance contributors for the same molecule all have the same chemical formula and same sigma framework, but the pi electrons will be distributed differently among the atoms. Because Lewis dot diagrams often cannot represent the true electronic structure of a molecule, resonance structures are often employed to approximate the true electronic structure. Resonance structures of the same molecule are connected with a double-headed arrow. While organic chemists use resonance structures frequently, they are also used in inorganic structures, with nitrate as an example.

Key characteristics edit

The key elements of resonance are:

  • Resonance occurs because of the overlap of orbitals. Double bonds contain pi bonds, formed from the overlap of 2p orbitals. The electrons in these pi orbitals will be spread over more than two atoms, and hence are delocalized.
  • Both paired and unshared electrons may be delocalized, but all the electrons must be conjugated in a pi system.
  • If the orbitals do not overlap (such as in orthogonal orbitals) the structures are not true resonance structures and do not mix.
  • Molecules or species with resonance structures are generally considered to be more stable than those without them. The delocalization of the electrons lowers the orbital energies, imparting this stability. The resonance in benzene gives rise to the property of aromaticity. The gain in stability is called the resonance energy.
  • All resonance structures for the same molecule must have the same sigma framework (sigma bonds form from the "head on" overlap of hybridized orbitals). Furthermore, they must be correct Lewis structures with the same number of electrons (and consequent charge) as well as the same number of unpaired electrons. Resonance structures with arbitrary separation of charge are unimportant, as are those with fewer covalent bonds. These unimportant resonance structures only contribute minimally (or not at all) to the overall bonding description; however, they are important in some cases such as for a carbonyl group.
  • The hybrid structure is defined as the superposition of the resonance structures. A benzene ring is often shown with a circle inside a hexagon (in American texts) rather than alternating double bonds — the latter example misrepresents the electronic structure. Bonds with broken bond orders are often displayed as double bonds with one solid and one dashed line.

What resonance is not edit

Significantly, resonance structures do not represent different, isolatable structures or compounds. In the case of benzene, for example, there are two important resonance structures - which can be thought of as cyclohexa-1,3,5-trienes. There are other resonance forms possible, but because they are higher in energy than the triene structures (due to charge separation or other effects) they are less important and contribute less to the "real" electronic structure (average hybrid). However, this does not mean there are two different, interconvertable forms of benzene; rather, the true electronic structure of benzene is an average of the two structures. The six carbon-carbon bond lengths are identical when measured, which would be invalid for the cyclic triene. Resonance should also not be confused with a chemical equilibrium or tautomerism which are equilibria between compounds that have different sigma bonding patterns. Hyperconjugation is a special case of resonance.

History edit

The concept of resonance was introduced by Linus Pauling in 1928. He was inspired by the quantum mechanical treatment of the H2+ ion in which an electron is located between two hydrogen nuclei. The alternative term mesomerism popular in German and French publications with the same meaning was introduced by Christopher Ingold in 1938 but did not catch on in the English literature. The current concept of Mesomeric effect has taken on a related but different meaning. The double headed arrow was introduced by the German chemist Arndt (also responsible for the Arndt-Eistert synthesis) who preferred the German phrase zwischenstufe or intermediate phase.

Due to confusion with the physical meaning of the word resonance, as no elements do actually appear to be resonating, it is suggested to abandon the term resonance in favor of delocalization [1]. Resonance energy would become delocalization energy and a resonance structure becomes contributing structure. The double headed arrows would get replaced by commas.

Examples edit

Scheme 2. Examples of resonance ozone, benzene and the allyl cation

The ozone molecule is represented by two resonance structures in the top of scheme 2. In reality the two terminal oxygen atoms are equivalent and the hybrid structure is drawn on the right with a charge of -1/2 on both oxygen atoms and partial double bonds. The concept of benzene as a hybrid of two conventional structures (middle scheme 2) was a major breakthrough in chemistry made by Kekule, and the two forms of the ring which together represent the total resonance of the system are called Kekule structures. In the hybrid structure on the right the circle replaces three double bonds. The allyl cation (bottom scheme 2) has two resonance forms and in the hybrid structure the positive charge is delocalized over the terminal methylene groups.

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ If It's Resonance, What Is Resonating? Kerber, Robert C. . J. Chem. Educ. 2006 83 223. Abstract
  2. (Much of this text originally from

<< Foundational concepts | << Electron dot structures | Resonance | Acids and bases >> | Alkanes >>