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: 4-Coordinated Complexes

My last lesson stated that the most common coordination number for coordination complexes is 6.  The next most common coordination number is 4, and complexes with this type of coordination adopt either the tetrahedral or the square planar geometry.  The tetrahedron is far more common than the square plane for 4-coordinated complexes, and the type of geometry depends a lot on the size and bonding strength of the ligands.  If the ligands are too big, then a tetrahedral geometry provides greater separation between ligands and minimizes electron repulsion.  If the ligands are too small, then there is room for 2 extra ligands to bond to the metal centre to form a 6-coordinated complex, and an octahedral geometry is adopted instead.

The square planar geometry is usually adopted by 4-coordinated complexes with metal ions that have a d8 electronic configuration.  Examples of such ions include Ni2+, Pd2+, Pt2+, and Au3+.