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Science Poetry

Taking Shape

“A simplified rhyming summation:
Chem concept of hybridization.  
Geometry-fixing 
From orbitals’ mixing;
Molecular bonding formation.”

The 3 April 2022 Twitter limerick addressed some key topics related to molecular geometries: the shapes molecules adopt, which impact their reactivities.  Molecular geometries are explained by chemists via several different theories and concepts, depending on which lens is most useful for the situation at hand.    

“A simplified rhyming summation: / 
Chem concept of hybridization.” 

The first two lines state that this poem will summarize the chemical concept called hybridization, acknowledging that this will be a simplification!  

“Geometry-fixing /
From orbitals’ mixing: / 
Molecular bonding formation.” 

VSEPR Theory is the simplest explanation of three-dimensional molecular geometries, via concepts of “valence-shell electron-pair repulsion.”  Via VSEPR Theory, a methane molecule (CH4) would be predicted to have its geometry (shape) because of four regions of electron density (the four C-H bonds) around the central carbon; this shape would be called tetrahedral

However, that geometry does not make sense with carbon’s electron configuration: the way in which a carbon atom has its electrons distributed among its orbitals, via its subshells and shells.  Carbon’s electron configuration as an individual neutral atom is represented as [He] 2s2 2p2 (an arrangement suggesting that carbon will form only two bonds).    

The concept of orbital hybridization is introduced via a different approach called valence bond (VB) theory.  Via hybridization, orbitals mix together to generate what are called “hybrid orbitals,” capable of forming bonds of equal energy.  Methane’s orbitals undergo “sp3 hybridization,” which means the one s orbital and the three p orbitals in the n=2 shell are averaged together to yield four sp3 orbitals of equivalent energy, rationalizing why methane can form the four equivalent bonds necessary for the tetrahedral shape.  

This can be summarized poetically as “geometry-fixing from orbitals’ mixing,” resulting in “molecular bonding formation.”  The last lines can be read in two reasonable ways: either as “a given geometry (formation) is rationalized via hybridization” or as “hybridization results in the formation of several molecular bonding interactions” (i.e., the chemical bonds of interest).