- predict the relative boil points of organic compounds
Intermolecular forces (IMFs) can be used to predict relative boiling points. The stronger the IMFs, the lower the vapor pressure of the substance and the higher the boiling point. Therefore, we can compare the relative strengths of the IMFs of the compounds to predict their relative boiling points.
H-bonding > dipole-dipole > London dispersion (van der Waals)
When comparing compounds with the same IMFs, we use size and shape as tie breakers since the London dispersion forces increase as the surface area increases. Since all compounds exhibit some level of London dispersion forces and compounds capable of H-bonding also exhibit dipole-dipole, we will use the phrase "dominant IMF" to communicate the IMF most responsible for the physical properties of the compound.
In the table below, we see examples of these relationships. When comparing the structural isomers of pentane (pentane, isopentane, and neopentane), they all have the same molecular formula C5H12. However, as the carbon chain is shortened to create the carbon branches found in isopentane and neopentane the overall surface area of the molecules decreases. The visual image of MO theory can be helpful in seeing each compound as a cloud of electrons in an all encompassing MO system. Branching creates more spherical shapes noting that the sphere allows the maximum volume with the least surface area. The structural isomers with the chemical formula C2H6O have different dominant IMFs. The H-bonding of ethanol results in a liquid for cocktails at room temperature, while the weaker dipole-dipole of the dimethylether results in a gas a room temperature. In the last example, we see the three IMFs compared directly to illustrate the relative strength IMFs to boiling points.
Boiling points and melting points
The observable melting and boiling points of different organic molecules provides an additional illustration of the effects of noncovalent interactions. The overarching principle involved is simple: the stronger the noncovalent interactions between molecules, the more energy that is required, in the form of heat, to break them apart. Higher melting and boiling points signify stronger noncovalent intermolecular forces.
Consider the boiling points of increasingly larger hydrocarbons. More carbons means a greater surface area possible for hydrophobic interaction, and thus higher boiling points.
As you would expect, the strength of intermolecular hydrogen bonding and dipole-dipole interactions is reflected in higher boiling points. Just look at the trend for hexane (nonpolar London dispersion interactions only ), 3-hexanone (dipole-dipole interactions), and 3-hexanol (hydrogen bonding).
Of particular interest to biologists (and pretty much anything else that is alive in the universe) is the effect of hydrogen bonding in water. Because it is able to form tight networks of intermolecular hydrogen bonds, water remains in the liquid phase at temperatures up to 100 OC, (slightly lower at high altitude). The world would obviously be a very different place if water boiled at 30 OC.