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Controlling Stereoisomerism: Understanding Stereoselectivity in Organic Reactions

Organic chemistry is the branch of chemistry that deals with compounds containing carbon atoms. One of the fundamental concepts in organic chemistry is the study of stereoisomers, which are molecules that have the same molecular formula but differ in the arrangement of their atoms in space.

Stereochemistry is essential in organic synthesis, as it plays a significant role in the preparation of desired products. This article will cover two main topics: stereoselectivity in addition reactions of alkenes and syn and anti additions in organic synthesis.

We’ll explore the mechanisms of addition reactions and the formation of meso compounds. We’ll also dive into the synthesis of vicinal dihalides and the selective preparation of cis and trans alkenes.

Stereoselectivity in Addition Reactions of Alkenes

Mechanisms of Addition Reactions

Addition reactions are among the most common reactions in organic chemistry. They involve the addition of a molecule or an atom to a carbon-carbon double bond.

Two mechanisms govern addition reactions: syn addition and anti addition. In a syn addition mechanism, both additions occur on the same side of the double bond.

The result is a cis product. On the other hand, in an anti addition mechanism, the additions occur on opposite sides of the double bond, resulting in a trans product.

Bromination of Cyclohexene

Bromination of cyclohexene illustrates the concept of stereoselectivity. The reaction is a stereoselective reaction, which means that one stereoisomer is formed more than the others.

Bromination of cyclohexene generates trans-1,2-dibromocyclohexane as the major product. The reaction occurs via an anti addition mechanism.

Formation of Meso Compounds

Meso compounds are an exceptional occurrence in organic chemistry. They are compounds that have an internal plane of symmetry, which leads to identical halves of the molecule.

They are achiral, which means they do not have a handedness or a mirror image. The formation of meso compounds occurs via a syn hydroxylation reaction, which involves the addition of two hydroxyl groups on adjacent carbons of the double bond.

The product is a cis-dihydroxycyclohexane with an internal plane of symmetry.

Tricky Anti Addition Mechanisms

In some anti addition mechanisms, it can be tricky to predict the final product. For example, chlorination of an alkene can produce both cis and trans products.

But the reaction occurs via an anti addition mechanism. By analyzing the zig-zag notation of the alkene and comparing it with the final product, we can predict the product’s stereoisomerism.

Stereospecificity of Products

Stereospecificity is the ability of a reaction to produce only one stereoisomer. In some cases, the formation of a single stereoisomer is crucial for the desired product’s function.

A common example is the formation of trans/alcohol and cis/alkene products via hydrogenation of alkynes. Selective hydrogenation reactions occur via different catalysts like Lindlar’s reduction or metal-dissolved reduction, yielding specific stereoisomers.

Syn and Anti Additions in Organic Synthesis

Synthesis of Vicinal Dihalides

Vicinal dihalides are compounds containing two halogens on adjacent carbons of a hydrocarbon molecule. One of the methods to synthesize vicinal dihalides is halogenation of alkenes.

By using a retrosynthetic scheme, where the product is analyzed, a suitable set of starting materials can be selected to yield the desired product.

Selective Preparation of Cis and Trans Alkenes

Synthesis of cis and trans alkenes is critical in preparing desired products. The hydrogenation of alkynes using Lindlar’s catalyst yields cis alkenes, while metal-dissolved reduction produces trans alkenes.

Suitable Synthesis Sequence

The synthesis sequence is essential to produce the desired stereoisomers of the product. For example, the haloalkanes’ stereoisomers can be controlled by selecting the appropriate starting material and reaction conditions.


Stereoselectivity and stereospecificity are essential concepts in organic chemistry. In addition reactions, these concepts can be illustrated through the bromination of cyclohexene and the formation of meso compounds.

In organic synthesis, syn and anti additions are important in the selective preparation of cis and trans alkenes and the synthesis of vicinal dihalides. By appropriately selecting the starting material and the order of reactions, it is possible to control stereoisomerism and obtain the desired product for functional applications.

In conclusion, this article highlights the importance of stereoselectivity and stereospecificity in organic chemistry. It explains the mechanisms of addition reactions, the formation of meso compounds, and syn and anti-addition reactions in organic synthesis.

It also discusses the selective preparation of cis and trans alkenes and the synthesis of vicinal dihalides to control stereoisomerism. The key takeaway is that by appropriately selecting the starting material and the order of reactions, desired stereoisomers can be obtained for functional applications.


1. What is stereoselectivity in organic chemistry?

Stereoselectivity is the tendency of some reactions to produce a specific stereoisomer over others. 2.

What are the mechanisms of addition reactions? Addition reactions occur via syn addition and anti addition mechanisms.

3. What are meso compounds?

Meso compounds are compounds that have an internal plane of symmetry, which makes them achiral. 4.

How can we control stereoisomerism during organic synthesis? By appropriately selecting the starting material and the order of reactions in organic synthesis, stereoisomerism can be controlled.

5. What is the significance of selective preparation of cis and trans alkenes?

Selective preparation of cis and trans alkenes is essential for preparing desired products where only one stereoisomer is required.

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