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Self-fulfilling cavitands: Packing alkyl chains into small spaces

  • Byron W. Purse
  • Julius Rebek
National Academy of Sciences
Publication Date
Feb 13, 2006


The present research was undertaken to determine the conformations of alkyl groups that are forced into small spaces. Unbranched alkyl groups assume fully extended conformations in the free space of solutions, because any bends in the structure create steric clashes between hydrogens along the chain. We synthesized a series of alkyl esters of a carboxylic acid attached to the inner surface of a vase-shaped container structure. The shorter esters (ethyl and propyl) can be accommodated in extended conformations, and even small solvent molecules can share the container’s space. Longer (butyl-octyl) esters adopt increasingly coiled conformations that writhe rapidly in the limited space of the cavity. Even longer esters (nonyl and decyl) can be synthesized, but their containers become distorted, and their spectra indicate slowed internal motions of the alkyl groups within the space. In general, alkyl groups are readily contorted when their internal strains are compensated by attraction with the inner surfaces and the proper filling of space.

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