MYTUTOR SUBJECT ANSWERS

475 views

What is chirality/optical isomerism?

Chirality (or optical isomerism) is a physical property of a molecule which has a non-superimposable mirror image. In other words, a molecule which, when reflected cannot be rotated in any way to make the original molecule. 

The simplest example of this is human hands, they are mirror images but cannot be superimposed upon one another. Another example is the letter R. You can prove this to yourself by looking at your hands side by side with both palms facing towards you and try to superimpose them. You'll soon see that no matter how much you rotate them, they will not fit on top of one another.

The most common optical isomers are 'asymmetric' carbons, those with 4 different groups bonded to them (e.g. (NH2)HC(OH)(COOH) ), however it can be found in coordination complexes and even larger organic molecules. Optical isomers are indistinguishable in their chemical properties as they take part in the same reactions with achiral reagents, however if polarised light is passed through a solution of a chiral molecule, it will be rotated slightly. Passing polarised light through this molecule's optical isomer will rotate the light the same amount in the opposite direction.

Another key difference of two optical isomers is how they interact with biological systems, most notably enzymes (which are themselves chiral). Often, only one optical isomer will take part in reactions catalysed by enzymes and the other will not react at all (due to the importance of shape in enzyme active sites). A perfect example of this is the molecule carvone, one isomer of which smells like spearmint and the other of caraway seeds. The difference in smell is due to the different interaction with receptors in the nose. 

Matthew W. GCSE Chemistry tutor, A Level Chemistry tutor, GCSE Maths ...

2 years ago

Answered by Matthew, an A Level Chemistry tutor with MyTutor


Still stuck? Get one-to-one help from a personally interviewed subject specialist

95 SUBJECT SPECIALISTS

£22 /hr

Silvia K.

Degree: Medicine (Bachelors) - Sheffield University

Subjects offered:Chemistry, Maths+ 3 more

Chemistry
Maths
Biology
-Personal Statements-
-Medical School Preparation-

“Hi there! My name is Sylvie and I am a third year medical student at The University of Sheffield. I am very passionate about teaching and I am quite easy-going and accomodating. I thoroughly enjoy my degree and I am hoping my tutorial...”

£20 /hr

Laura K.

Degree: Chemical Engineering (Masters) - Bath University

Subjects offered:Chemistry, Science+ 3 more

Chemistry
Science
Physics
Maths
Further Mathematics

“Hey there! I am Laura and I am currently studying Chemical Engineering at University of Bath. I am really passionate about Science and I am willing to share my knowledge through tutoring you. My passion and expertise in science can be...”

£22 /hr

Hannah W.

Degree: Biology (Bachelors) - Bristol University

Subjects offered:Chemistry, Music+ 5 more

Chemistry
Music
Maths
History
English Literature
English Language
Biology

“Hi I'm Hannah and I am a Biology student at Bristol University. I have always loved the sciences, especially Biology and Chemistry but I am also passionate aboutcreative subjects such as Music and English.  I completely understand how...”

About the author

£26 /hr

Matthew W.

Degree: Chemistry (Masters) - Durham University

Subjects offered:Chemistry, -Personal Statements-

Chemistry
-Personal Statements-

“Chemistry undergraduate at Durham University keen to help you with your studies!”

You may also like...

Other A Level Chemistry questions

A bromoalkane contains 34.9% carbon and 6.60% hydrogen by mass. The rest of the mass is made up by bromine. What is the empirical formula of this molecule?

1.5 g of hydrocarbon undergoes complete combustion to give 4.4 g of CO2 and 2.7 g of H2O. Given this data, what is the empirical formula of this hydrocarbon?

Using chemical reagents in test tubes, distinguish between isomers: A CH3CO(CH2)2CHOH, B CH3CH(OH)(CH2)2CHO and C C(CH3)2OHCOCH3

Which Medical Schools Should I apply to?

View A Level Chemistry tutors

We use cookies to improve your site experience. By continuing to use this website, we'll assume that you're OK with this. Dismiss

mtw:mercury1:status:ok