Introduction: How to Visualize Organic Compounds

Estimated Time: 10 minutes

Materials Needed: pen, paper

Prior Knowledge: basic chemistry knowledge

The ability to visualize organic compounds in three dimensions from the wedge-dash notation is important, because it allows you to better understand the interactions amongst chemical compounds. Wedge-dash notation is the standard method in which chemists may depict a compound. Although the interactions can become intricate and difficult to understand, being able to visualize the compounds shouldn't have to be. This Instructable will teach you how to visualize wedge-dash notation in three dimensions by describing the wedge-dash notation, teaching you how to apply this information, and, finally, giving you an example to test your understanding.

Step 1: Part One [Step One: General Information]

There are three different types of bonds that can be notated in chemical compounds. In a three dimensional field, elements can either be parallel to the plane, behind the plane, or in front of the plane in the compound.

  • "normal" bonds lie parallel to the plane
  • dashed bonds extend away from the viewer, or behind the plane
  • wedged bonds protrude towards the viewer, or in front of the plane

Step 2: [Step Two: Example]

An example of the wedge-dash notation can be seen above in its application to methane. You should study this example and practice relating the notation to the 3D image.

Step 3: Part Two: Application [Step One: Choose a Starting Point]

Now that you understand the relationship between dash, wedge, and normal bonds, you can apply this knowledge to other compounds. In order to do this most efficiently, you should pick a starting point to visualize the rest of the compound in relation to it. To pick this starting point consider:

  • which element has the most in the same plane as it
  • which element is also related to those not in the same plane

Step 4: [Step Two: Visualize by Making a 3D Model]

To aid your visualization, you should make a 3D model until you are comfortable with imagining these relationships without it. Drawing a 3D model will help you relate the wedge-dash notation to a representation that is more easily understood naturally.

Step 5: Part Three: Identification

Test your understanding by picking the 3D model that best represents the wedge-dash notation of the compound given. [Answer: B]

Step 6: Part Three: Identification, Continued

Consider these additional problems to test your understanding.

Answers: A, C

More can be found at:

Step 7: Part Four: What's Next?

Now that you understand the basics of wedge-dash notation, consider following these links to apply it to benzene rings and other more complicated structures.