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In chemistry, isomerization or isomerisation is the transformation of a molecule into a different isomer [1]. In some molecules and under some conditions, isomerisation occurs spontaneously. Many isomers are equal or roughly equal in bond energy, and so they interconvert relatively freely. When the isomerisation occurs intramolecularly it is considered a rearrangement reaction.

Instances of Isomerization

  • Isomerisations in hydrocarbon cracking. This is usually employed in organic chemistry, where fuels, such as pentane, a straight-chain isomer, are heated in the presence of a platinum catalyst (see image). The resulting mixture of straight- and branched-chain isomers then have to be separated. An industrial process is also the isomerisation of n-butane into isobutane.
Isomerisation of pentane.

Nota Bene: the first product should be 2-methylbutane, rather than 2-methylpentane.

Resveratrol photoisomerization

The energy difference between two isomers is called isomerisation energy. Isomerisations with low energy difference both experimental and computational (in parentheses) are endothermic trans-cis isomerisation of 2-butene with 2.6 (1.2) kcal/mol, cracking of isopentane to n-pentane with 3.6 (4.0) kcal/mol or conversion of trans-2-butene to 1-butene with 2.6 (2.4) kcal/mol.[3]


  1. Gold Book definition: Link
  2. Resveratrol Photoisomerization: An Integrative Guided-Inquiry Experiment Elyse Bernard, Philip Britz-McKibbin, Nicholas Gernigon Vol. 84 No. 7 July 2007 Journal of Chemical Education 1159
  3. How to Compute Isomerization Energies of Organic Molecules with Quantum Chemical Methods Stefan Grimme, Marc Steinmetz, and Martin Korth J. Org. Chem.; 2007; 72(6) pp 2118 - 2126; (Article) doi:10.1021/jo062446p

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