I keep seeing the term cropping up, but cannot seem to find a definition for it. My understanding is that it is an environment in which, when the isomers interact with the environment, the two enantiomers can be distinguished. The only example I can think of is with the human body, where one type of enantiomer can form an enzyme-substrate complex and the other cannot. I can't think of any other examples though. Can you create a chiral environment in a lab?
My understanding is that it is an environment in which, when the isomers interact with the environment, the two enantiomers can be distinguished.
That's exactly right. Some examples of chiral environments that could be created in a lab would include
- Running a reaction in a chiral solvent
- Running a reaction in a chiral cavity
- Running a reaction with a chiral reagent
- Running a photochemical reaction with a polarized light source
- Carrying out a reaction on a surface to which chiral molecules have been attached (certain clays have this property)
All of these items are like a glove, and each enantiomer will fit differently. This different "fit" leads to transition states of different energy as each enantiomer moves along the reaction coordinate towards the product(s).