Topic 20: Organic chemistry - 20.1 Types of organic reactions

Nature of science: Employing quantitative reasoning-electrode potentials and the standard hydrogen electrode. (3.1) Collaboration and ethical implications-scientists have collaborated to work on electrochemical cell technologies and have to consider the environmental and ethical implications of using fuel cells and microbial fuel cells. (4.5)


Essential idea: Key organic reaction types include nucleophilic substitution, electrophilic addition, electrophilic substitution and redox reactions. Reaction mechanisms vary and help in understanding the different types of reaction taking place.

Nucleophilic Substitution Reactions:

SN1 represents a nucleophilic unimolecular substitution reaction and SN2 represents a nucleophilic bimolecular substitution reaction. SN1 involves a carbocation intermediate. SN2 involves a concerted reaction with a transition state.

For tertiary halogenoalkanes the predominant mechanism is SN1 and for primary halogenoalkanes it is SN2. Both mechanisms occur for secondary halogenoalkanes.

The rate determining step (slow step) in an SN1 reaction depends only on the concentration of the halogenoalkane, rate = k[halogenoalkane]. For SN2, rate = k[halogenoalkane][nucleophile]. SN2 is stereospecific with an inversion of configuration at the carbon

SN2 reactions are best conducted using aprotic, non-polar solvents and SN1 reactions are best conducted using protic, polar solvents.

Electrophilic Addition Reactions:

An electrophile is an electron-deficient species that can accept electron pairs from a nucleophile. Electrophiles are Lewis acids.

Markovnikov's rule can be applied to predict the major product in electrophilic addition reactions of unsymmetrical alkenes with hydrogen halides and interhalogens. The formation of the major product can be explained in terms of the relative stability of possible carbocations in thereaction mechanism.

Electrophilic Substitution Reactions:

Benzene is the simplest aromatic hydrocarbon compound (or arene) and has a delocalized structure of p bonds around its ring. Each carbon to carbon bond has a bond order of 1.5. Benzene is susceptible to attack by electrophiles.

Reduction Reactions:

Carboxylic acids can be reduced to primary alcohols (via the aldehyde).Ketones can be reduced to secondary alcohols. Typical reducing agents are lithium aluminium hydride (used to reduce carboxylic acids) and sodium borohydride.

Applications and skills

Nucleophilic Substitution Reactions:

Explanation of why hydroxide is a better nucleophile than water.

Deduction of the mechanism of the nucleophilic substitution reactions of halogenoalkanes with aqueous sodium hydroxide in terms of SN1 and SN2 mechanisms. Explanation of how the rate depends on the identity of thehalogen (ie the leaving group), whether the halogenoalkane is primary, secondary or tertiary and the choice of solvent.

Outline of the difference between protic and aprotic solvents.

Electrophilic Addition Reactions:

Deduction of the mechanism of the electrophilic addition reactions of alkenes with halogens/interhalogens and hydrogen halides

Electrophilic Substitution Reactions:

Deduction of the mechanism of the nitration (electrophilic substitution) reaction of benzene (using a mixture of concentrated nitric acid and sulfuric acid).

Reduction Reactions:

Writing reduction reactions of carbonyl containing compounds: aldehydes and ketones to primary and secondary alcohols and carboxylic acids to aldehydes, using suitable reducing agents.

Conversion of nitrobenzene to phenylamine via a two-stage reaction.


Reference should be made to heterolytic fission for SN1 reactions.

The difference between homolytic and heterolytic fission should be understood.

The difference between curly arrows and fish-hooks in reaction mechanisms should be emphasized.

Use of partial charges (d+ and d-) and wedge-dash three-dimensional representations (using tapered bonds as shown below) should be encouraged where appropriate in explaining reaction mechanisms.

Typical conditions and reagents of all reactions should be known (eg catalysts, reducing agents, reflux etc.). However, more precise details such as specific temperatures need not be included.