Organic and Inorganic Chemistry Lesson of the Day – Stereogenic Centre

A stereogenic centre (often called a stereocentre) is an atom that satisfies 2 conditions:

  1. it is bonded to at least 3 substituents.
  2. interchanging any 2 of the substituents would result in a stereoisomer.

If a molecule has only 1 stereogenic centre, then it definitely has a non-superimposable mirror image (i.e. this molecule is chiral and is an enantiomer).  However, depending on its stereochemistry, it is possible for a molecule with 2 or more stereogenic centres to be achiral; such molecules are called meso isomers (or meso compounds), and I will discuss them in a later lesson.

In organic chemistry, the stereogenic centre is usually a carbon atom that is attached to 4 substituents in a tetrahedral geometry.  In inorganic chemistry, the stereogenic centre is usually the metal centre of a coordination complex.

In organic chemistry, stereogenic centres with substituents in a tetrahedral geometry are common.  Inorganic coordination complexes can also have a tetrahedral geometry.  A stereoisomer with n tetrahedral stereogenic centres can have at most 2^n stereoisomers.  The “at most” caveat is important; as mentioned above, it is possible for a molecule with 2 or more stereogenic centres to have a spatial arrangement that results in having a superimposable mirror image; such isomers are meso isomers.   I will discuss meso isomers in more detail in a later lesson.



Inorganic Chemistry Lesson of the Day – 2 Different Ways for Chirality to Arise in Coordination Complexes

In a previous Chemistry Lesson of the Day, I introduced chirality and enantiomers in organic chemistry; recall that chirality in organic chemistry often arises from an asymmetric carbon that is attached to 4 different substituents.  Chirality is also observed in coordination complexes in inorganic chemistry.  There are 2 ways for chirality to be observed in coordination complexes:

1.   The metal centre has an asymmetric arrangement of ligands around it.

  • This type of chirality can be observed in octahedral complexes and tetrahedral complexes, but not square planar complexes.  (Recall that square planar complexes have a plane formed by the metal and its 4 ligands.  This plane can serve as a plane of reflection, and any mirror image of a square planar complex across this plane is clearly superimposable onto itself, so it cannot have chirality just by having 4 different ligands alone.)

2.   The metal centre has a chiral ligand (i.e. the ligand itself has a non-superimposable mirror image).

  • Following the sub-bullet under Point #1, a square planar complex can be chiral if it has a chiral ligand.


Inorganic Chemistry Lesson of the Day: 2-Coordinated Complexes

Some coordination complexes have just 2 ligands attached to the metal centre.  These complexes have a linear geometry; this allows the greatest separation of the electron clouds in the metal-ligand bonds, which minimizes electron repulsion.

Inorganic Chemistry Lesson of the Day: 6-Coordinated Complexes

The most common coordination number for inorganic coordination complexes is 6, and these complexes will most commonly adopt an octahedral geometry.  This geometry is especially common for coordination complexes with a first-row transition metal ion as the Lewis-acid centre.  It consists of 4 ligands forming a plane, and 2 ligands above and below the plane.  The “octa-” prefix in “octahedral” refers to the 8 faces that this geometry has.

Two alternative geometries of 6-coordinated complexes are the trigonal prism and hexagonal plane; these are far less common than the octahedron.

Inorganic Chemistry Lesson of the Day – Coordination Complexes

A coordination complex is a compound that consists of Lewis bases bonded to a Lewis acid in its centre.  The charge of the complex can be neutral, positive, or negative; if the complex has a positive or a negative charge, then it is called a complex ion.  The Lewis acid is almost always a metal atom or a metal ion.  The Lewis bases are called ligands, and they are often covalently bonded to the Lewis acid.  Common ligands include carbon monoxide, water, and ammonia; what unifies them is the existence of at least one lone pair of electrons in their outermost energy level, and this lone pair of electrons is donated to the Lewis acid.

Some key terminology:

  • The donor atom is the atom within the ligand that is attached to the Lewis acid centre.
  • The coordination number is the number of donor atoms in the coordination complex.
  • The denticity of a ligand is the number of bonds that it forms with the Lewis acid centre.
    • If a ligand forms 1 bond with the Lewis acid centre, then it is monodentate (sometimes called unidentate).
    • If a ligand forms multiple bonds with the Lewis acid centre, then the coordination complex is polydentate.  For example, a bidentate ligand forms 2 bonds with the Lewis acid centre.

In later Inorganic Chemistry Lessons of the Day, I will only refer to coordination complexes with metal atoms or metal ions as the Lewis acid centres.