Geometric Isomers: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 What are Geometric Isomers?
  • 1:38 Double Bonds
  • 3:06 Ring Structures
  • 4:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Andrea Kropp

Andrea holds a master's degree in Chemistry and has taught General and Organic Chemistry, Biology and Physics at the college level.

This lesson provides a definition of geometric isomers, explains how they arise, and how to identify them. In addition to basic examples from chemistry, the lesson shares more complex examples from biochemistry to show how prevalent and vital geometric isomers are.

What Are Geometric Isomers?

Hand two different kids a pile of eight identical Lego bricks and chances are they won't build exactly the same thing. Since they are starting with the same materials, the structures they build, assuming they use all the pieces, would count as isomers. In chemistry, two molecules are called isomers if they contain the same atoms, but are not the same. Geometric isomers are a special case where the atoms in each isomer are all connected in the same order, but the shape of the molecule is different.

Lego representation of geometric isomers
Geometric Isomers

In the Lego example, if one child connects all eight in a straight line we will call A, and the other child connects all eight in a staircase pattern we will call B, the two structures would be geometric isomers. In both cases, the bricks are connected in the same way: red-red-white-white-red-red-white-white, with no branch points. But clearly the two have different overall shapes. Working with the same eight bricks, many other geometric isomers can be built, like C, D, E, and F. Notice how the order of the connections is always the same, but the three dimensional shape varies.

In chemistry, the two most common types of geometric isomers are those arising from a double bond and those arising from a ring structure. Note that geometric isomers are also called cis/trans isomers, and the terms can be used interchangeably. The Latin prefixes cis- and trans- indicate how the groups attached to the double bond are arranged in space with cis meaning same side and trans meaning opposite side.

Double Bonds

Cis/trans-2-butene double bonds

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