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Triple Bond: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:03 Definition
  • 1:20 Triple Bonds and…
  • 2:50 Examples
  • 4:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth (Nikki) Wyman

Nikki has a master's degree in teaching chemistry and has taught high school chemistry, biology and astronomy.

Tiny but mighty, triple bonds are some of the toughest structures in the atomic world. Learn the definition of a triple bond, get familiar with some examples, then quiz yourself on your new knowledge.

Definition

Nitrogen gas makes up 78% of our atmosphere and is one of the strongest little molecules out there. This is because nitrogen gas is made up of two nitrogen atoms held together by a triple bond. A triple bond is formed when two atoms are sharing three pairs of electrons. Triple bonds between atoms are often represented by three parallel lines.

It is important to note that electrons are shared in pairs. Each shared pair of electrons is called a covalent bond. Two shared electrons equate to a single covalent bond. Three sets of two shared electrons equate to a triple covalent bond. Though there are only three distinct bonds in a triple bond, a total of six electrons are being shared.

Because six electrons are shared between two atoms, triple bonds are incredibly strong and require immense energy to break. Breaking a triple bond between two nitrogen atoms requires nearly six times the energy of breaking a single bond between two nitrogens. As well as being very strong, triple bonds are also very short. A triple bond between two carbons is approximately 25% shorter than a single bond between two carbons.

Triple Bonds and Electron Orbitals

Truly understanding triple bonds requires a closer look at what's going on with the crazy, unpredictable electrons that are involved.

Electrons buzz around an atom in particular shapes according to their energy level and distance from the nucleus. The organization of electrons around an atom is called the electron configuration, and the particular shapes inhabited by electrons are called electron orbitals. There are four shapes of electron orbitals, s, p, d and f. In triple bonds, the s and p orbitals are involved.

Each atom participating in the triple bond must shuffle electrons and orbitals around so that six electrons can be evenly shared. Each atom must first do some magic and fuse their outermost s orbital with a p orbital. This hybrid orbital is called sp and will contain two total electrons. As if it wasn't complicated enough, this bond is often referred to as a sigma bond. Each atom will then use the two remaining p orbitals to share electrons with the other atom. Electrons shared in p orbitals are called pi bonds.

A triple bond consists of one sigma bond and two pi bonds. The image shows how they are arranged between two nitrogen atoms. Together, the two dark green bands are one pi bond. The two light green bands are another pi bond. The orange band represents the sigma bond, made by overlapping sp orbitals.

Arrangement of bonds in a triple bond
triple bond diagram

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