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Essays in the Philosophy of Chemistry$
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Eric Scerri and Grant Fisher

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780190494599

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190494599.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 13 June 2021

Reaction Mechanisms

Reaction Mechanisms

CHAPTER 8 Reaction Mechanisms
Essays in the Philosophy of Chemistry

Richard M. Pagni

Oxford University Press

AFTER I HAD BEEN in graduate school for several months, I decided to work in a group that studied photochemical reactions, those that are initiated by ultraviolet or visible light. My research advisor was interested in discovering new reactions and deducing experimentally how they occurred—the reaction mechanism. I remember my first group meeting where the topic of discussion was the ring-opening of cyclobutenes (compounds with four carbon atoms in a ring opening up to form compounds with no rings). I still recall people describing the potential ways in which the ring-openings occurred as domino and antidomino (today called conrotatory and disrotatory). Thermally induced reactions, that is, those initiated by heat, occurred one way and photochemically induced reactions, the other. Even though these reactions had been studied thoroughly, the reaction mechanisms were considered incomplete because nobody could explain the dichotomy between the thermally- and photochemically induced reactions. Why these reactions occurred in the manner they did was unknown. When quantum mechanical explanations were later proposed to explain the ring-opening reactions, the reaction mechanisms might be said to be complete, although the related question of the cause of the reactions—in other words, why they happen at all—still had to be addressed. Reaction mechanisms consist in more than merely knowing the pathways by which reactants are converted into products. Until all related questions are answered satisfactorily, a mechanism may be considered incomplete. The evolution of modern chemistry from its origin in the late eighteenth century to its present day power and sophistication is remarkable (Brock 1992, Greenberg 2000, Bensaude-Vincent and Simon 2008, Chalmers 2011). Space limitations preclude more than a very brief summer of this history; references are included for the interested reader. Oxidation was weaned from its alchemical origins and the first elements and gases synthesized during the early decades of modern chemistry (Smartt Bell 2005, Thorpe 2007, Holmes 2008, Jay 2009). Additional elements were then discovered and their properties measured and compared (Scerri 2007). Methodology, laboratory technique, and apparatus were developed to carry out these new tasks, primarily in the nineteenth century (Faraday 1960, Buckingham 2004).

Keywords:   Anthracene, Bromide anion, Catalysts, Electrochemistry, Falsification, Gravity, Ideal gas law, Lithium aluminum hydride, Methyl iodide, Photochemical reactions

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