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Published: Kem. Ind. 68 (1-2) (2019) 41–47
Paper reference number: KUI-40/2018
Paper type: Professional paper / Chemistry in Teaching
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A Different Introduction to Stereochemistry: Snails, Mirrors, and Coordinate Systems

K. Molčanov


Chirality is the central concept of stereochemistry, but remains neglected at both high school and university levels. It is typically introduced through description of Pasteur’s historic resolution of enantiomers of tartaric acid, and teaching is usually centred on correct assignation of configurations R and S. This “classical” approach rarely proceeds further, thus leaving serious gaps in the students’ knowledge. In this paper, new and systematic approach to the introduction of the concept of chirality, is described. We start with every-day objects (shoes, mirrors, snails, etc.), from which a generalised concept of chirality is introduced. Once this groundwork is laid, molecular chirality is deduced; its commonly occurring special cases (such as R and S configurations of the tetrahedral carbon atom) are discussed later. This method of teaching basic concepts of stereochemistry can be easily adopted to learning through experiments.

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stereochemistry, chirality, teaching chemistry, absolute configurations