Drawing Isomers of Organic Molecules: Practice Problems

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  • 0:01 Isomers: The Same, but…
  • 1:17 Structural Isomers
  • 3:55 Stereo Isomers
  • 6:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Sometimes things that look the same are actually quite different, and we find this to be true with isomers. In this lesson, you'll learn about different types of isomers and how even small changes can make a big difference.

Isomers: The Same, but Different

Have you ever tried to learn a new language? A large part of that process comes down to following basic rules and memorization, right? You definitely have to memorize vocabulary, but a lot of what you learn is based on a defined grammatical structure and organization.

Organic chemistry is no different! While it may not be as common as speaking French or Spanish, the process of learning how to 'speak' organic chemistry is remarkably similar. There are new vocab terms to memorize, as well as rules to follow when naming and describing organic compounds.

And in this lesson we're going to do just that—learn how to describe some organic compounds. But, these compounds are especially cool because they are isomers, and isomers are molecules that have the same chemical formula but have different arrangements of their atoms.

To be very clear, this is not the same as identifying one thing by different names, as we often do in many languages. Head, noggin, cranium, and dome are all words used to describe your head, but your head doesn't change when you switch terms, just the name of it does. Isomers are more like your right and left hands. Each is a hand, and they both look very similar. But one is oriented to the right and one is oriented to the left. The same, but different. Make sense?

Structural Isomers

There are many different types of isomers that fall into two main categories, the first of which is called structural (also known as conformational). These are organic compounds that have the same formula but different structures. Think of this as the difference between Coke and Pepsi. But look, both LOOK brown and fizzy, and are quite refreshing! But somewhere deep inside they are different, and because of this, they get different names. Structural isomers are kind of like this because their chemical formulas look the same (they contain the same number of atoms), but their names are different because they have different structures. And, there are three different kinds of structural isomers to be familiar with.

Chain isomers are when the carbon atoms of the molecules are linked together differently. You can easily spot an organic compound because of its carbon atoms all linked together, much like the links of a chain. And, when we rearrange these chains without changing the formula of the molecule, we get chain isomers.


Next are positional isomers, which are when functional groups are positioned differently on the compound. So now instead of rearranging our chain, we are rearranging the position of a functional group present on that chain. Take for example butanol (C4H10O), which is similar to our old friend butane, but now we have added an -OH where once was just an -H. We can move that -OH around on the molecule, which gives us isomers with new names. In one location, the molecule would be 1-butanol. But shift that -OH to another carbon atpm, and we get 2-butanol. And, all we did was change that functional group's position on the molecule!

Finally, we have functional isomers, which are compounds with the same formula but different functional groups. So instead of moving the functional group, we're swapping the whole darn thing out. Take for example C2H6O. If we look at one isomer, ethanol, we see a molecule with a hydroxyl group on one end. But, if we shift that oxygen atom to the middle of the molecule, we now have an ether because we have a different functional group all together: C-O-C! This molecule is called methoxymethane.

Stereo Isomers

The second category of isomers are the stereo isomers. These are molecules that have different spatial arrangements. This might sound similar to what we just covered, but hang tight, and you'll see why these are a bit different. 'Stereo' means 'three-dimensional,' so here we're talking about differences in space, not structure like before.

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