History of the Grignard Reaction

Instructor: Danielle Reid

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

The Grignard reaction helped shaped the world of organic chemistry. Named after Victor Grignard, he discovered how carbon-carbon bonds can be made from metals. Learn about the history of this reaction and the scientist who discovered it.

Who is Victor Grignard?

Born in 1871, Francois August Victor Grignard, who we will refer to as Victor Grignard, spent his life dedicated to the field of organic chemistry. A French chemist, he was very curious about the relationship between metals and organic compounds.

Could it be possible that a metal can lead to the formation of carbon-carbon bonds? Well, this curiosity along with years of research work led to the fascinating discovery of organometallic compounds also known as Grignard reagents. I know, I know, organo-metalla-what? Don't be alarmed by the word. It simply means you have a compound that contains a carbon atom bonded to a metal. An example of this compound is shown below.

Example of An Organometallic Compound Called Molybdenum Hexacarbonyl

Regarded as a game changer in the field of organic chemistry, it is estimated that more than 6,000 papers have referenced Victor's steps used to make the Grignard Reagent. Now that is what we can call one famous ingredient!.

History of the Grignard Reaction

Mentioned earlier, we saw that Victor Grignard was very interested in the relationship between metals and organic compounds. He didn't pick just any organic compound. Rather, he specifically chose a compound that contained a mix of carbon and hydrogen atoms, along with one halogen atom. If you look at group 17 of the periodic table, you will find halogen atoms such as chlorine and iodine. An example of the compound Victor used is shown.

Example of The Compound Used To Make Grignard Reagents

Just as picky as he was about choosing an organic compound, he felt the same way about the metal. He didn't choose just any metal. Rather he picked magnesium metals. But why magnesium? These metals are reactive. That is, they really enjoy mingling with compounds and atoms.

Studying the reaction between magnesium metal and bromoalkanes, Victor Grignard realized something happened when you add a liquid solution, or solvent, to the pot. Illustrated in reaction #1, shown below, ether was the solvent used. To note, ether is a compound that contains an oxygen atom bonded to two different molecules. Poof! Not only did the magnesium metal dissolve, the container got toasty warm and the solution turned dark gray.

Illustration of The Experiment Behind the Grignard Reaction

After seeing this result Victor began to think, 'what would happen if you throw in an aldehyde or ketone?' Aldehyde and ketones can be thought of as siblings. Both contain a carbonyl group which is a carbon atom double bonded to an oxygen atom. Aldehydes are molecules that contain a carbonyl group single bonded to a hydrogen atom. Its brother, ketone is a carbonyl group single bonded to a molecule or atom.

Structural Formula of an Aldehyde and Ketone
aldehyde or ketone

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