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October 8, 2009
Retire These Reactions!
Here's a question you don't hear discussed very often: are there some synthetic organic chemistry reactions that don't need any more work? I'm moved to ask this because I just came across yet another way that someone has reported to dehydrate an oxime to a nitrile. (No, I won't link to it. You don't need it. No one needs it).
If asked to count the number of times I have seen new reagents that dehydrate oximes to nitriles, I would be at a total loss to even try to guess. But I've seen it over and over and over. Is it possible that we now have enough ways to do this? And that anyone who is contemplating adding another one to the list should instead go do something else?
I'll vote for that. And there are several other transformations that could go on the same list. That doesn't mean that I think that our existing methods for these are all perfect, or that they couldn't be improved. I mean, even for forming amides, I would like an inexpensive reagent that never fails, even with crappy unreactive hindered coupling partners, works at room temperature in about five minutes, and has a ridiculously simple workup. We don't quite have that, do we? But no one's publishing on coupling reagents like that, because they're rather hard to realize. What we get are a bunch of things that are about as useful as what we have already.
And I agree that it's worth having multiple methods to accomplish the same reaction. I've been saved several times by being able to move down the list and find something that works. But how long should the list be? Eight reagents? Ten? Twenty? At what point should something like this cease to become an acceptable field for human effort?
My first nomination, then, for the Retirement Home for Organic Transformations is aldoxime to nitrile. I am willing to face the rest of my chemistry career with only the monstrously long list of reagent systems we have today for that reaction. Further nominations can be made in the comments - I'll assemble a list for another post.
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