Stereoisomers Homework Help - K-12 Grade Level, College Level Chemistry

Introduction to Stereoisomers

As described in a previous introductory section, isomers are distinct compounds that have similar molecular formula. While the group of atoms that form the molecules of distinct isomers are bonded together in fundamentally dissimilar ways, we considered that type of compounds as constitutional isomers. For an instance, in case of the C4H8 hydrocarbons, many isomers are constitutional. Shorthand structures for four of those isomers are shown below in the diagram with their IUPAC names.

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Note: the twelve atoms that make these isomers are bonded or connected in very dissimilar ways. As it is right for all constitutional isomers, that each unique compound has a unique IUPAC name. Moreover, the molecular formula presents information about some of the structural features that must be present in the isomers. Because the formula: C4H8 has two fewer hydrogens than the four-carbon alkane butane (C4H10), all the isomers that having this composition must incorporate either a ring or a double bond. A 5th possible isomer of formula C4H8 is CH3CH=CHCH3. This would be named 2-butene as per the IUPAC rules; though, a close examination of this molecule point out that it has two possible structures. As distinct compounds these isomers may be isolated, having different characteristic and properties. They are shown here with the designations trans and cis.

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The bonding patterns of the atoms in these two isomers are essential to be equivalent, the only dissimilarity being the configuration or relative orientation of the two methyl groups (and the two related hydrogen atoms) about the double bond. In the Trans isomer methyl groups are on opposite side; whereas they are on similar sides in the cis isomer. Stereoisomers are the Isomers that vary only in the spatial orientation of their component atoms. Stereoisomers always needs that an additional nomenclature prefix be added to the IUPAC name in order to point out their spatial orientation, for an instance, trans (Latin, meaning across) and cis (Latin, meaning on this side) in the 2-butene case.


Diastereomers are the stereoisomers not related via a reflection operation. They are not the mirror images of each other. These include the cis-trans (E-Z) isomers, meso compounds, and non-enantiomeric optical isomers. The Diastereomers seldom have identical physical properties. In the diagram, meso form of tartaric acid forms a diastereomeric pair with both levo and dextro tartaric acids which forms an enantiomeric pair.

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It should be noted carefully here, that D- and L- labelling of the isomers above is not the same as the d- and l- labelling more usually seen explaining why these may appear reversed to those familiar with only the latter naming convention.


Conformational isomerism is type of isomerism that defines the phenomenon of molecules with the similar structural formula but with distinct shapes because of rotations about one or more bonds. Different conformations have different energies, can generally interconvert and are very rarely isolatable. For an instance, cyclohexane can exist in various different conformations that include a boat conformation and a chair conformation but for cyclohexane itself these can never be separated. Boat conformation is stand for an energy maximum (and not a transition state) on the conformational itinerary among the two equivalent chair forms. There are some molecules that can isolated in various conformations, due to the large energy barriers among different conformations. 2,2,2',2'-the Tetra substituted biphenyls can fit into this latter category.


Two stereoisomers which are related to each other through a reflection are known as Enantiomers: They are mirror images of each other that are non-superimposable. A Macroscopic instance of stereoisomerism is Human hands. Each stereogenic center in one has the opposite configuration in the other. Two compounds which are enantiomers of each other have identical physical properties, apart from the direction in which they rotate polarized light and how they have interaction with different optical isomers of other compounds. Result is, a compound's different enantiomers may have considerably distinct biological effects. Pure enantiomers also display the phenomenon of optical activity and by the use of a chiral agent, can be separated. Naturally, only one enantiomer of most chiral biological compounds, like amino acids (apart from the glycine, which is achiral), is present.

Cis-trans and E-Z isomerism

About double bonds the stereoisomerism get arise due to rotation about the double bond is restricted, by keeping the substituents fixed relative to each other. If substituents on either end of a double bond are identical, it is not considered a stereo bond.

Usually, double bond stereochemistry was explained as either Trans (Latin, across) or cis (Latin, on this side), in reference to the relative position of substituents on either side of a double bond. The simple most cases of cis-trans isomerism are the 1, 2-disubstituted ethenes, such as the dichloroethene (C2H2Cl2) isomers that are displayed in the diagram.

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Molecule 1st is cis-1, 2-dichloroethene and molecule 2nd is trans-1, 2-dichloroethene. Because occasional ambiguity, IUPAC adopted a more rigorous system in which the substituents at each end of the double bond are assigned priority that is based on their atomic number. It is assigned Z (Ger. zusammen, together) if the high-priority substituents are on similar side of the bond. It is E (Ger. entgegen, opposite) If they are on opposite sides. Because as compared to hydrogen, chlorine has a larger atomic number, it is the highest-priority group. By Using this notation to name the above pictured molecules, molecule 1st is (Z)-1, 2-dichloroethene and molecule 2nd is (E)-1, 2-dichloroethene. It is not example that Z and cis or E and Trans are always interchangeable. Consider the following diagram of fluoromethylpentene:

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The appropriate name for this molecule is either trans-2-fluoro-3-methylpent-2-ene because the alkyl groups which form the backbone chain (that is ethyl  and methyl) exist in across the double bond from each other, or (Z)-2-fluoro-3-methylpent-2-ene because the highest-priority groups on each side of the double bond are on similar side of the double bond. Ethyl is the highest-priority group on the right side of the molecule and Fluoro is the highest-priority group on the left side of the double bond.

The terms cis and Trans are also used to explained the relative position of two substituents on a ring; cis if on similar side, otherwise Trans.

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