In organic chemistry, much emphasis is given to the study of the conformers of alkanes and the broader topic of conformational analysis. Can you elucidate why the spatial arrangements and rotations around single bonds in alkanes are so crucial that they merit such focused attention? How does understanding these basic structural variations provide a foundation for grasping more complex concepts in advanced organic chemistry? Moreover, why do introductory organic chemistry courses prioritize this subject, and how does it set the stage for deeper exploration in subsequent coursework and research?
Barton writes in his 1969 Nobel lecture:
Every chemical reaction has a transition state. Many transition states have a well-defined preferred geometrical requirement.
So the conformation (or the distribution of conformations) is one driver of chemical reactivity. Conformation also determines the shape of a molecule, which in turn is important for understanding whether and how molecules attach to the binding sites in receptors and enzymes.
[OP] Can you elucidate why the spatial arrangements and rotations around single bonds in alkanes are so crucial that they merit such focused attention?
The reactions of alkanes are not as diverse as those of other families of compounds, but the principles of conformational analysis (rotation around single bonds, steric hinderance, conformations of rings) are the same.