Ethylene: The π system is analogous to σ-bonding in H2
Viewed from the top or bottom, the ethylene π-orbitals look like the H2 σ orbitals. Thus we can map solutions from chains and rings of H atoms onto chains and rings of π-orbitals (as we did for the three-orbital case of O3).
Chains and rings of four H atoms or π-orbitals (H4 or butadiene):
MO diagram for H4 or butadiene
A few notes about this MO diagram:
- In the linear form of the molecule, the combination of AOs makes a ladder of evenly spaced energy levels that alternate g – u – g – u …. Each successive orbital has one more node. This is a general rule for linear chains of σ or π orbitals with even numbers of atoms.
- In the cyclic form of the molecule, there is one non-degenerate orbital at the bottom, one at the top, and a ladder of doubly degenerate orbitals in between. This is also a general rule for cyclic molecules with even numbers of atoms. This is the origin of the 4n+2 rule for aromatics.
- H4 has four valence electrons, and by analogy butadiene has four π-electrons. These electrons fill the lowest two MOs in the linear form of the molecule, corresponding to two conjugated π-bonds in butadiene (H2C=CH-CH=CH2).
- In the cyclic form of the molecule, the degenerate orbitals are singly occupied. The molecule can break the degeneracy (and lower its energy) by distorting to a puckered rectangle. This is a general rule for anti-aromatic cyclic molecules (4n rule). Thus cyclobutadiene should be anti-aromatic and have two single and two double bonds that are not delocalized by resonance.
Cyclobutadiene is actually a very unstable molecule because it polymerizes to relieve ring strain. Sterically hindered derivatives of the molecule do have the puckered rectangular structure predicted by MO theory.
How do we get from a 4-atom to 6-atom chain?
By analogy to the process we used to go from a 2-atom chain to a 4-atom chain, we now go from 4 to 6. We start with the orbitals of the 4-atom chain, which form a ladder of g and u orbitals. Then we make g and u combinations of the two atoms that we are adding at the ends. By combining g's with g's and u's with u's, we end up with the solutions for a string of 6 atoms. Closing these orbitals into a loop gives us the π molecular orbitals of the benzene molecule. The result is three π bonds, as we expected. Benzene fits the 4n+2 rule (n=2) and is therefore aromatic.
Here we have used the isolobal analogy to construct MO diagrams for π-bonded systems, such as ethylene and benzene, from combinations of s-orbitals. It raises the interesting question of whether the aromatic 4n+2 rule might apply to s-orbital systems, i.e., if three molecules of H2 could get together to form an aromatic H6molecule. In fact, recent studies of hydrogen under ultra-high pressures in a diamond anvil cell show that such structures do form. A solid hydrogen phase exists that contains sheets of distorted six-membered rings, analogous to the fully connected 2D network of six-membered rings found in graphite or graphene.
It should now be evident from our construction of MO diagrams for four- and six-orbital molecules that we can keep adding atomic orbitals to make chains and rings of 8, 10, 12... atoms. In each case, the g and u orbitals form a ladder of MOs. At the bottom rung of the ladder of an N-atom chain, there are no nodes in the MO, and we add one node for every rung until we get to the top, where there are N-1 nodes. Another way of saying this is that the wavelength of an electron in orbital x, counting from the bottom (1,2,3...x,...N), is 2Na/x, where a is the distance between atoms. We will find in Chapters 6 and 10 that we can learn a great deal about the electronic properties of metals and semiconductors from this model, using the infinite chain of atoms as a model for the crystal.