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I see 5- and 6-membered ring products as the major products even when 7-membered rings are possible. Why is that 5- and 6-membered rings are more likely to form than 7-membered rings? Is it even true?

My textbook says a 5-membered ring is the major product and the 7-membered ring is the minor product in intra-molecular aldol condensation reaction of 6-oxoheptanal.

Major Product: 1-(cyclopent-1-en-1-yl)propan-2-one
Minor Product: cyclohept-2-ene-1-carbaldehyde and 2-methylcyclopent-1-ene-1-carbaldehyde

This is not the only reaction where I found a 5-membered ring as a major product when a 7-membered ring was possible.

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    $\begingroup$ Simply because the 5- and 6-membered rings can adopt conformations with less ring strain than 7-membered rings (6-membered rings in particular have the famous chair conformation). That's all there is to it. Look up "ring strain" in any org chem textbook $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Mar 28 '16 at 12:02
  • $\begingroup$ @orthocresol I don't think that's right, at least for saturated systems. $n=6$ rings have minimal ring strain; $n>6$ should also be minimally strained, since they're floppier. I wouldn't think things would be much different for, e.g., the mono-unsaturated system described by OP...? $\endgroup$ – hBy2Py Mar 28 '16 at 12:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Brian March 7ed pp 199-200 i.imgur.com/tClSmXh.png i.imgur.com/8qLnCqG.png Actually the unsaturation might change things, but the preference for 5- and 6-rings in aldol reactions is definitely thermodynamic. $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Mar 28 '16 at 12:36
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There are two factors that need to be considered to answer your question - entropy and enthalpy.

Entropy favors the formation of smaller rings. If we consider a hydrocarbon chain, the number of possible conformations increases dramatically as we go from 3 carbons to, for example, 10 carbons. Only a few of these conformations will be correctly arranged so that the two ends of the chain are close to each other, which is necessary if we are to form a bond. So, entropically speaking, it will be much more probable to form a 3-membered ring than a 10-membered ring. This is shown in the following graph where 3-, 4- and 5-membered ring formation is entropically most favored.

graph of entropy versus ring size

Note that a less negative $\Delta S$ favors the reaction since $\Delta G=\Delta H - T \Delta S$.

Enthalpy comes into play when we consider the strain in the transition state leading to the possible products. Here is a chart showing the relative ring strain as a function of ring size.

strain energy (kcal/mol) vs ring size

As expected, strain is the highest in 3- and 4-membered rings.

If we overlay (add) these entropic and enthalpic effects we would get a graph similar to the one pictured below.

Rate constants vs. Ring Size for the cyclization of malonates

In general, we find that 5-membered ring formation is usually the favored pathway. This web article (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1984, 106, 1051-1056.) is a nice review of this topic that may be useful for a more in-depth reading on the subject. The above web article is also the source of the above three images.

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