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4.2: Representing ionic and molecular compounds and molecules

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    217261
  • Skills to Develop

    • Symbolize the composition of molecules using molecular formulas and empirical formulas
    • Represent the bonding arrangement of atoms within molecules using structural formulas

     

    Communicating the identity and composition of chemicals is an imperative skill for scientists and there are a variety of methods that can be used. Each method has a set of rules, and communicates different types of information about the compound or molecules. This section explains the use of chemical formulas for covalent molecules. The next section will discuss naming, or nomenclature of molecular and ionic compounds. The use of chemical formulas and nomenclature are used in academic and industrial settings and can be important for engineers, biologists, geologists, medical professionals and many others. 

    Chemical Formulas for Covalent Compounds and Molecules

    A molecular formula is a representation of a molecule that uses chemical symbols to indicate the types of atoms followed by subscripts to show the number of atoms of each type in the molecule. (A subscript is used only when more than one atom of a given type is present.) Molecular formulas are also used as abbreviations for the names of compounds. 

    An empirical formula gives shows the composition of a compound given as the simplest whole-number ratio of atoms. 

    The structural formula for a compound gives the same information as its molecular formula (the types and numbers of atoms in the molecule), and also shows how the atoms are connected in the molecule. 

    For example, the molecule cyclohexane is comprised of six carbon atoms and twelve hydrogen atoms; the carbon atoms are covalently bonded in a circular chain and two hydrogen atoms are covalently bonded to each carbon atom. The molecular formula for cyclohexane is C6H12   and the empirical formula of cyclohexane is C2H6. Notice how the molecular formula provides more information than the empirical formula - the actual number of atoms compared to the ratio of the atoms.  The structural formula also shows the connectivity of those atoms with a straight line indicating a single covalent bond (sharing of two electrons). Figure 1 shows the structural formula for cyclohexane  

     

    Illustrated Glossary of Organic Chemistry - Cyclohexane

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): The structural formula of cyclohexane

     

    Two other common representations of molecular (covalent) molecules and compounds are the ball-and-stick model and the space-filling model.  A ball-and-stick model shows the geometric arrangement of the atoms with atomic sizes not to scale, and a space-filling model shows the relative sizes of the atoms. Figure two shows the molecular and structural formulas for methane and the ball and stick and space filling models for methane. 

     

    Figure A shows C H subscript 4. Figure B shows a carbon atom that is bonded to four hydrogen atoms at right angles: one above, one to the left, one to the right, and one below. Figure C shows a 3-D, ball-and-stick model of the carbon atom bonded to four hydrogen atoms. Figure D shows a space-filling model of a carbon atom with hydrogen atoms partially embedded into the surface of the carbon atom.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): A methane molecule can be represented as (a) a molecular formula, (b) a structural formula, (c) a ball-and-stick model, and (d) a space-filling model. Carbon and hydrogen atoms are represented by black and white spheres, respectively.

     

    In many cases, the molecular formula of a substance is derived from experimental determination of both its empirical formula and its molecular mass (the sum of atomic masses for all atoms composing the molecule). For example, it can be determined experimentally that benzene contains two elements, carbon (C) and hydrogen (H), and that for every carbon atom in benzene, there is one hydrogen atom. Thus, the empirical formula is CH. An experimental determination of the molecular mass reveals that a molecule of benzene contains six carbon atoms and six hydrogen atoms, so the molecular formula for benzene is C6H6 (Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\)).

    Figure A shows that benzene is composed of six carbons shaped like a hexagon. Every other bond between the carbon atoms is a double bond. Each carbon also has a single bonded hydrogen atom. Figure B shows a 3-D, ball-and-stick drawing of benzene. The six carbon atoms are black spheres while the six hydrogen atoms are smaller, white spheres. Figure C is a space-filling model of benzene which shows that most of the interior space is occupied by the carbon atoms. The hydrogen atoms are embedded in the outside surface of the carbon atoms. Figure d shows a small vial filled with benzene which appears to be clear.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Benzene, C6H6, is produced during oil refining and has many industrial uses. A benzene molecule can be represented as (a) a structural formula, (b) a ball-and-stick model, and (c) a space-filling model. (d) Benzene is a clear liquid. (credit d: modification of work by Sahar Atwa).

    If we know a compound’s formula, we can easily determine the empirical formula. (This is somewhat of an academic exercise; the reverse chronology is generally followed in actual practice.) For example, the molecular formula for acetic acid, the component that gives vinegar its sharp taste, is C2H4O2. This formula indicates that a molecule of acetic acid (Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\)) contains two carbon atoms, four hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms. The ratio of atoms is 2:4:2. Dividing by the lowest common denominator (2) gives the simplest, whole-number ratio of atoms, 1:2:1, so the empirical formula is CH2O. Note that a molecular formula is always a whole-number multiple of an empirical formula.

    Figure A shows a jug of distilled, white vinegar. Figure B shows a structural formula for acetic acid which contains two carbon atoms connected by a single bond. The left carbon atom forms single bonds with three hydrogen atoms. The right carbon atom forms a double bond with an oxygen atom. The right carbon atom also forms a single bond with an oxygen atom. This oxygen forms a single bond with a hydrogen atom. Figure C shows a 3-D ball-and-stick model of acetic acid.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): (a) Vinegar contains acetic acid, C2H4O2, which has an empirical formula of CH2O. It can be represented as (b) a structural formula and (c) as a ball-and-stick model. (credit a: modification of work by “HomeSpot HQ”/Flickr)

    Example \(\PageIndex{1}\): Empirical and Molecular Formulas

    Molecules of glucose (blood sugar) contain 6 carbon atoms, 12 hydrogen atoms, and 6 oxygen atoms. What are the molecular and empirical formulas of glucose?

    Solution

    The molecular formula is C6H12O6 because one molecule actually contains 6 C, 12 H, and 6 O atoms. The simplest whole-number ratio of C to H to O atoms in glucose is 1:2:1, so the empirical formula is CH2O.

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    A molecule of metaldehyde (a pesticide used for snails and slugs) contains 8 carbon atoms, 16 hydrogen atoms, and 4 oxygen atoms. What are the molecular and empirical formulas of metaldehyde?

    Answer

    Molecular formula, C8H16O4; empirical formula, C2H4O

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    If you predict that another compound with the formula C2H4O2 could exist, then you demonstrated good chemical insight and are correct. Two C atoms, four H atoms, and two O atoms can also be arranged to form methyl formate, which is used in manufacturing, as an insecticide, and for quick-drying finishes. Methyl formate molecules have one of the oxygen atoms between the two carbon atoms, differing from the arrangement in acetic acid molecules. Acetic acid and methyl formate are examples of isomers—compounds with the same chemical formula but different molecular structures (Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\)). Note that this small difference in the arrangement of the atoms has a major effect on their respective chemical properties. You would certainly not want to use a solution of methyl formate as a substitute for a solution of acetic acid (vinegar) when you make salad dressing.

    Figure A shows a structural diagram of acetic acid, C subscript 2 H subscript 4 O subscript 2. Acetic acid contains two carbon atoms connected by a single bond. The left carbon atom forms single bonds with three hydrogen atoms. The carbon on the right forms a double bond with an oxygen atom. The right carbon atom also forms a single bond to an oxygen atom which forms a single bond with a hydrogen atom. Figure B shows a structural diagram of methyl formate, C subscript 2 H subscript 4 O subscript 2. This molecule contains a carbon atom which forms single bonds with three hydrogen atoms, and a single bond with an oxygen atom. The oxygen atom forms a single bond with another carbon atom which forms a double bond with another oxygen atom and a single bond with a hydrogen atom.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Molecules of (a) acetic acid and methyl formate (b) are structural isomers; they have the same formula (C2H4O2) but different structures (and therefore different chemical properties).

    Many other types of isomers exist (Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\)). Acetic acid and methyl formate are structural isomers, compounds in which the molecules differ in how the atoms are connected to each other. There are also various types of spatial isomers, in which the relative orientations of the atoms in space can be different. For example, the compound carvone (found in caraway seeds, spearmint, and mandarin orange peels) consists of two isomers that are mirror images of each other. S-(+)-carvone smells like caraway, and R-(−)-carvone smells like spearmint. To learn more about these types of isomers, students can take an organic chemistry course! 

    The top left portion of this 2 row, 4 column figure shows a structural diagram of positive carvone, C subscript 10 H subscript 14 O. This molecule has a carbon atom which forms a double bond with a C H subscript 2 group and a C H subscript 3 group. The carbon atom also forms a single bond with another carbon atom which is part of a ring. This carbon atom, being part of the ring, forms single bonds with a hydrogen atom, a C H subscript 2 group, and a C H subscript 2 group. The first C H subscript two group forms a single bond with C H which forms a double bond with a carbon atom. This carbon atom forms a single bond with a C H subscript 3 group. The carbon atom forming part of the ring forms a single bond with a carbon atom which forms a double bond with an oxygen atom and a single bond with a C H subscript 2 group to complete the ring. Below the structural diagram of carvone is a photo of caraway seeds. Column 2 contains identical ball and stick representations of the structural diagram in the top left position. The top right portions of these images each contains the letter “S” and there is an arrow pointing downward from the top image to the bottom image. Columns 3 and 4 are representations of negative carvone. The top row in column three depicts a mirrored image of the ball and stick structure to its left, reflected across the y axis. There is a downward pointing arrow to the image below, which is the same structure rotated counter clockwise 180 degrees. Both images in column 3 have an “R” in the top right corner. The image in the first row of column 4 is the same as the lewis structure in the first row of column 1, reflected across the y axis. Below this negative carvone structural diagram is a photo of spearmint leaves.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\): Molecules of carvone are spatial isomers; they only differ in the relative orientations of the atoms in space. (credit bottom left: modification of work by “Miansari66”/Wikimedia Commons; credit bottom right: modification of work by Forest & Kim Starr)

    Molecules made up of a single element 

    Although many elements consist of discrete, individual atoms, some exist as molecules made up of two or more atoms of the element chemically bonded together. For example, most samples of the elements hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen are composed of molecules that contain two atoms each (called diatomic molecules) and thus have the molecular formulas H2, O2, and N2, respectively. Other elements commonly found as diatomic molecules are fluorine (F2), chlorine (Cl2), bromine (Br2), and iodine (I2). The most common form of the element sulfur is composed of molecules that consist of eight atoms of sulfur; its molecular formula is S8 (Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\)).

    Figure A shows eight sulfur atoms, symbolized with the letter S, that are bonded to each other to form an octagon. Figure B shows a 3-D, ball-and-stick model of the arrangement of the sulfur atoms. The shape is clearly not octagonal as it is represented in the structural formula. Figure C is a space-filling model that shows each sulfur atom is partially embedded into the sulfur atom it bonds with.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): A molecule of sulfur is composed of eight sulfur atoms and is therefore written as S8. It can be represented as (a) a structural formula, (b) a ball-and-stick model, and (c) a space-filling model. Sulfur atoms are represented by yellow spheres.

    It is important to note that a subscript following a symbol and a number in front of a symbol do not represent the same thing; for example, H2 and 2H represent distinctly different species. H2 is a molecular formula; it represents a diatomic molecule of hydrogen, consisting of two atoms of the element that are chemically bonded together. The expression 2H, on the other hand, indicates two separate hydrogen atoms that are not combined as a unit. The expression 2H2 represents two molecules of diatomic hydrogen (Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\)).

    This figure shows four diagrams. The diagram for H shows a single, white sphere and is labeled one H atom. The diagram for 2 H shows two white spheres that are not bonded together. It is labeled 2 H atoms. The diagram for H subscript 2 shows two white spheres bonded together. It is labeled one H subscript 2 molecule. The diagram for 2 H subscript 2 shows two sets of bonded, white spheres. It is labeled 2 H subscript 2 molecules.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): The symbols H, 2H, H2, and 2H2 represent very different entities.

     

     

     

     

    Summary

    A molecular formula uses chemical symbols and subscripts to indicate the exact numbers of different atoms in a molecule or compound. An empirical formula gives the simplest, whole-number ratio of atoms in a compound. A structural formula indicates the bonding arrangement of the atoms in the molecule. Ball-and-stick and space-filling models show the geometric arrangement of atoms in a molecule. Isomers are compounds with the same molecular formula but different arrangements of atoms.

    Going Beyond

    What is it that chemists do? According to Lee Cronin, chemists make very complicated molecules by "chopping up" small molecules and "reverse engineering" them. He wonders if we could "make a really cool universal chemistry set" by what he calls "app-ing" chemistry. Could we "app" chemistry?

    Video \(\PageIndex{2}\): 2012 TED talk about Cronin's idea to "print" medicine.

    Glossary

    empirical formula
    formula showing the composition of a compound given as the simplest whole-number ratio of atoms
    isomers
    compounds with the same chemical formula but different structures
    molecular formula
    formula indicating the composition of a molecule of a compound and giving the actual number of atoms of each element in a molecule of the compound.
    spatial isomers
    compounds in which the relative orientations of the atoms in space differ
    structural isomer
    one of two substances that have the same molecular formula but different physical and chemical properties because their atoms are bonded differently
    structural formula
    shows the atoms in a molecule and how they are connected

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