Cycloalkanes: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:02 Cycloalkanes
  • 0:33 Alkanes
  • 1:07 Shape
  • 2:11 Naming Cycloalkanes
  • 3:55 Cycloalkanes in Real Life
  • 4:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Reid

Danielle has taught middle school science and has a doctorate degree in Environmental Health

You know that body fat you work so hard to burn off? And those proteins that keep your body functioning properly? They both contain cycloalkanes. In this lesson, we'll use real-life examples to explore the chemical life of cycloalkanes.


Food, hair care products, laundry detergents and your favorite pair of nylon stockings all contain a little molecule called cycloalkane. Cycloalkanes are hydrocarbons with a ring-like structure. In order to form a ring, cycloalkanes are saturated, meaning they have at least three alkane compounds present to form a ring or a cycle structure. Before we dig deeper into this concept, let's review the family tree of cycloalkanes.


If we explore the history of our friend cycloalkane, we'll see that its ancestors go all the way back to the alkane functional group. Alkanes are the simplest organic molecule that has a carbon and hydrogen attached. When two carbon/hydrogen (C-H) molecules are linked together, the alkane is known as ethane. When 50 carbon/hydrogen (C-H) molecules are linked together, we have n-pentacontane. But whether it's two or 50, this straight line of C-H bonding is what makes an alkane. . . well an alkane.


Now imagine what would happen if we took three of those C-H alkane bonds and folded them into a particular shape? Can you guess what shape that would be? If you said 'triangle,' you're right! However, in chemistry, we'd refer to this structure as a cycloalkane, instead of a triangle. To explore this term further, let's pull out our dusty English book and focus on the prefix and suffix of the word cycloalkane.

In looking at the two parts of this word, 'cyclo' and 'alkane,' we know that alkane refers to a molecule with a C-H bond. But what does 'cyclo' mean? If you're thinking it means round, to combine, or a ring, again, you're right. If we combine the two parts of the words together, we have: round-alkane, to combine-alkane, and ring-alkane.

While these combinations of words may look goofy, they can serve to remind you that whenever you see a cycloalkane, the first thing you should notice is its shape. For example, an alkane compound that looks like a triangle, square, circle, or any other shape is a cycloalkane.

Naming Cycloalkanes

The basic molecular formula for a cycloalkane is CnH2n, where n equals how many carbons you decide to throw into the pot. Keeping the formula in mind, why don't we take a look at its nomenclature, or name.

Supposing you made a beautiful cycloalkane to show off to your friends, but couldn't come up with a name. Now we can't let that happen, can we? When you decide to name your next Picasso cycloalkane structure, keep these three rules in mind:

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