Properties of Organic Compounds and Other Covalent Substances

Submitted by jwmoore on Sat, 01/15/2011 - 11:23



In our discussion of ionic substances, we described a number of macroscopic properties, such as electrical conductivity, crystalA solid with a regular polyhedral shape; for example, in sodium chloride (table salt) the crystal faces are all at 90° angles. A solid in which the atoms, molecules, or ions are arranged in a regular, repeating lattice structure. shape and cleavage, and characteristic chemical behavior of ions. These were understandable in terms of the microscopic picture of individual ions packed into a crystal latticeAn orderly, repeating arrangement of points in 3-D space in which each p;oint has surroundings identical to every other point. A crystal's constituent atoms, molecules, and ions are arranged about each lattice point. in a solidA state of matter having a specific shape and volume and in which the particles do not readily change their relative positions. ionic compoundA compound containing oppositely charged ions held together by electrostatic attraction. Usually the ions are in a crystal lattice with positive ions surrounded by negative ions and negative ions surrounded by positive ions. or able to move past one another in a liquidA state of matter in which the atomic-scale particles remain close together but are able to change their positions so that the matter takes the shape of its container or solutionA mixture of one or more substances dissolved in a solvent to give a homogeneous mixture.. The macroscopic properties of covalent and polarDescribes a molecule that has separated, equal positive and negative charges that consitute a positive and a negative pole; such a molecule tends to assume certain orientations more than others in an electric field. covalent substances can likewise be attributed to microscopic structure. We will see how the nature of the molecules in a covalently bonded substance influences its behavior.

The number of covalent substances is far larger than the number of ionic compounds, largely because of the ability of one elementA substance containing only one kind of atom and that therefore cannot be broken down into component substances by chemical means., carbon, to form strong bonds with itself, as in ethane, the compound shown below.

Hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and a number of other elements also bond strongly to carbon, and a tremendous variety of compounds can result. In the early days of chemistry such compounds were obtained from plants or animals rather than being synthesized by chemists, and so they came to be known as organic compounds. This distinguished them from the inorganicPertaining to the chemistry of elements other than carbon and compounds containing at most a small amount of carbon. compounds available from nonliving portions of the earth’s surface. Today literally millions of carbon compounds can be synthesized in laboratories, and so this historical distinction is no longer valid. Nevertheless, the study of carbon compounds is still referred to as organic chemistry. Since organic compounds all involve covalent bonds, we will describe a number of them as we discuss covalent substances. Many are of considerable commercial importance, and you probably encounter them, perhaps without knowing it, every day.

Macroscopic physical properties such as meltingThe process of a liquid forming from a solid. and boiling points depend on the strengths of the forces which hold microscopic particles together. In the case of molecules whose atomsThe smallest particle of an element that can be involved in chemical combination with another element; an atom consists of protons and neutrons in a tiny, very dense nucleus, surrounded by electrons, which occupy most of its volume. are connected by covalent bonds, such intermolecular forces may be of three types. All molecules are attracted together by weak London forces. These depend on instantaneous polarization and increase in strength with the size of the molecular electronA negatively charged, sub-atomic particle with charge of 1.602 x 10-19 coulombs and mass of9.109 x 1023 kilograms; electrons have both wave and particle properties; electrons occupy most of the volume of an atom but represent only a tiny fraction of an atom's mass. cloud. When a molecule contains atoms whose electronegativities differ significantly and the resulting bond dipoles do not cancel each other’s effects, dipole forces occur. This results in higher melting and boilingThe process of a liquid becoming vapor in which bubbles of vapor form beneath the surface of the liquid; at the boiling temperature the vapor pressure of the liquid equals the pressure of the gas in contact with the liquid. points than for nonpolarDescribes a molecule with no net permanent dipole; this can occur when there is no separation of centers of positive and negative electrical charge or because there are bond dipoles that cancel each others' effects. A polar molecule will assume certain orientations more than others in an electric field. substances.

The third type of intermolecular force, the hydrogen bond, occurs when one molecule contains a hydrogen atom connected to a highly electronegative partner. The other molecule must contain an electronegative atom, like fluorine, oxygen, or nitrogen, which has a lone pairIn a covalently bonded molecule or ion, a pair of electrons not shared between two atoms and hence not involved in a bond.. Although each hydrogen bond is weak compared with a covalent bond, large numbers of hydrogen bonds can have very significant effects. One example of this is in the properties of water. This highly unusual liquid plays a major role in making living systems and the earth’s environment behave as they do.

Carbon normally forms four bonds, and carbon-carbon bonds are quite strong, allowing formation of long chains to which side branches and a variety of functional groups may be attached. Hence the number of molecular structures which can be adopted by organic compounds is extremely large. Functional groups containing oxygen atoms, nitrogen atoms, and multiple bonds often determine the chemical and physical properties of carbon compounds. Therefore organic chemistry may be systematized by studying related groups of compounds such as alkanes, cycloalkanes, aromatic compounds, alkenes and alkynes, alcohols, ethers, aldehydes and ketones, carboxylic acids, esters, amines, and so on. Within each of these categories chemical and physical behaviors are closely related to molecular structures. Some covalently bonded substances do not consist of individual small molecules. Instead, giant macromolecules form. Examples include most of the rocks in the crust of the earth as well as modern plastics. Properties of such substances depend on whether the macromolecules are three dimensional (like diamond), two dimensional (like graphite or sheets of mica) or one dimensional (like polyethylene). In the latter two cases the strengths of forces between adjacent macromolecules have a significant effect on the properties of the substances.