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4.10: An Introduction to Cycloalkanes

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    Cycloalkanes have one or more rings of carbon atoms. The simplest examples of this class consist of a single, unsubstituted carbon ring, and these form a homologous series similar to the unbranched alkanes. The IUPAC names of the first five members of this series are given in the following table. The last (yellow shaded) column gives the general formula for a cycloalkane of any size. If a simple unbranched alkane is converted to a cycloalkane two hydrogen atoms, one from each end of the chain, must be lost. Hence the general formula for a cycloalkane composed of n carbons is CnH2n. Although a cycloalkane has two fewer hydrogens than the equivalent alkane, each carbon is bonded to four other atoms so such compounds are still considered to be saturated with hydrogen.

    Table 4.11.1: Examples of Simple Cycloalkanes

    Name Cyclopropane Cyclobutane Cyclopentane Cyclohexane Cycloheptane Cycloalkane
    C3H6 C4H8 C5H10 C6H12 C7H14 CnH2n

    The Baeyer Theory on the Strain in Cycloalkane RingsEdit section

    Many of the properties of cyclopropane and its derivatives are similar to the properties of alkenes. In 1890, the famous German organic chemist, A. Baeyer, suggested that cyclopropane and cyclobutane derivatives are different from cyclopentane and cyclohexane, because their C—C—C angles cannot have the tetrahedral value of 109.5°. At the same time, Baeyer hypothesized that the difficulties encountered in synthesizing cycloalkane rings from C7 upward was the result of the angle strain that would be expected if the large rings were regular planar polygons (see Table 12-3). Baeyer also believed that cyclohexane had a planar structure like that shown in Figure 12-2, which would mean that the bond angles would have to deviate 10.5° from the tetrahedral value. However, in 1895, the then unknown chemist H. Sachse suggested that cyclohexane exists in the strain-free chair and boat forms discussed in Section 12-3. This suggestion was not accepted at the time because it led to the prediction of several possible isomers for compounds such as chlorocyclohexane (cf. Exercise 12-4). The idea that such isomers might act as a single substance, as the result of rapid equilibration, seemed like a needless complication, and it was not until 1918 that E. Mohr proposed a definitive way to distinguish between the Baeyer and Sachse cyclohexanes. As will be discussed in Section 12-9, the result, now known as the Sachse-Mohr theory, was complete confirmation of the idea of nonplanar large rings.

    Table 12-3: Strain in Cycloalkane Rings and Heats of Combustion of Cycloalkanes

    Compound n Angle Strain at each CH2 Heat of Combustion ΔHo (kcal/mol) Heat of Combustion ΔHo per CH2/N (kcal/mol) Total Strain (kcal/mol)
    ethene 2 109.5 337.2 168.6 22.4
    cyclopropane 3 49.5 499.9 166.6 27.7
    cyclobutane 4 19.5 655.9 164.0 26.3
    cyclopentane 5 1.5 793.4 158.7 6.5
    cyclohexane 6 10.5 944.8 157.5 0.4
    cycloheptane 7 19.1 1108.1 158.4 6.3
    cyclooctane 8 25.5 1268.9 158.6 9.7
    cyclononane 9 30.5 1429.5 158.8 12.9
    cyclodecane 10 34.5 1586.1 158.6 12.1
    cyclopentadecane 15 46.5 2362.5 157.5 1.5
    open chain alkane 157.4 -

    One of the most interesting developments in ‘the stereochemistry of organic compounds in recent years has been the demonstration that transcyclooctene (but not the cis isomer) can be resolved into stable chiral isomers (enantiomers, Section 5-IB). In general, a trans-cycloalkene would not be expected to be resolvable because of the possibility for formation of achiral conformations with a plane of symmetry. Any conformation with all of the carbons in a plane is such an achiral conformation (Figure 12-20a). However, when the chain connecting the ends of the double bond is short, as in trans-cyclooctene, steric hindrance and steric strain prevent easy.


    • William Reusch, Professor Emeritus (Michigan State U.), Virtual Textbook of Organic Chemistry

    • 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."

    4.10: An Introduction to Cycloalkanes is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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