Optical Isomers

Optical isomers are two compounds which contain the same number and kinds of atoms, and bonds (i.e., the connectivity between atoms is the same), and different spatial arrangements of the atoms, but which have non-superimposable mirror images. Each non-superimposable mirror image structure is called an enantiomer. Molecules or ions that exist as optical isomers are called chiral.

Not all coordination compounds have optical isomers.

= C

= H

= F

= Cl

= Br

The Two Enantiomers of CHBrClF
Note that the molecule on the right is the reflection of the molecule on the left (through the mirror plane indicated by the black vertical line). These two structures are non-superimposable and are, therefore, different compounds.

Pure samples of enantiomers have identical physical properties (e.g., boiling point, density, freezing point). Chiral molecules and ions have different chemical properties only when they are in chiral environments.

Optical isomers get their name because the plane of plane-polarized light that is passed through a sample of a pure enantiomer is rotated. The plane is rotated in the opposite direction but with the same magnitude when plane-polarized light is passed through a pure sample containing the other enantiomer of a pair.