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31: Transition Metal Organic Compounds

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  • In the years following Kekulé brilliant proposal for the structure of benzene, organic chemistry underwent a tremendous expansion, and in the process a wide variety of paradigms or working hypotheses were developed about what kinds of compounds could "exist" and what kinds of reactions could occur. In many cases, acceptance of these hypotheses appeared to stifle many possible lines of investigation and caused contrary evidence to be pigeonholed as "interesting but not conclusive." As one example, the paradigm of angle strain was believed to wholly preclude substances that we know now are either stable or important reaction intermediates, such as cubane (Section 12-10), cyclopropanone (Section 17-11), and benzyne (Sections 14-6C and 23-8). No paradigm did more to retard the development of organic chemistry than the notion that, with a "few" exceptions, compounds with bonds between carbon and transition metals (Fe, Co, Ni, Ti, and so on) are inherently unstable. This idea was swept away in 1951 with the discovery of ferrocene (\(C_5H_5)_2Fe\)) by P. L. Pauson. Ferrocene has unheard of properties for an organoiron compound, stable to more than 500° and able to be dissolved in, and recovered from, concentrated sulfuric acid! Pauson's work started an avalanche of research on transition metals in the general area between organic and inorganic chemistry, which has flourished ever since and has led to an improved understanding of important biochemical processes.

    Thumbnail: Ball-and-stick model of a metallocene molecule where the cyclopentadienyl anions are in a staggered conformation. The purple ball in the middle represents the metal cation. (Public Domain; Ben Mills).

    Contributors and Attributions

    • John D. Robert and Marjorie C. Caserio (1977) Basic Principles of Organic Chemistry, second edition. W. A. Benjamin, Inc. , Menlo Park, CA. ISBN 0-8053-8329-8. This content is copyrighted under the following conditions, "You are granted permission for individual, educational, research and non-commercial reproduction, distribution, display and performance of this work in any format."