Fischer Projections are a Black Tie Affair

Emil Fischer is considered by many to be the greatest organic chemist to ever live.  His problem was that he created a way of looking at organic molecules that is very confusing to undergraduates.  These structures are necessary to learn and are very helpful when looking at certain molecules (such as carbohydrates), but they are also very easy to jumble.  This is because Fischer structures are drawn as crosses, which could lead one to erroneously think that the central carbon is flat, when it is actually still tetrahedral.

The easiest way to look at these is to think of them as bowties that have been strung together:

Fischer projections

3-dimensionally speaking, the substituents that are on the sides of the structure are depicted at the end of the bowtie and are represented as “coming out of the paper”.  The backbone is composed of dashed lines, which are meant to represent that those portions “are going into the paper”.  This is now a much easier way to view these structures, as it is more apparent what area each substituent occupies.

The useful part of the bowtie projection is that it is now easier to assess the stereochemistry at each chiral center.   It should be much easier to visualize that the bottom chiral center is “R”.  This was not as obvious when viewing the Fischer projection as a cross

Fischer Projection Chirality

For more help like this, please go to organic chemistry

Dr. Michael Pa got a bachelors degree in chemistry from Binghamton University, a masters degree in organic chemistry from the University of Arizona and a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Arizona. His research focus was on novel pain killers which were more potent than morphine but designed to have fewer side effects. There may even be a patent or two that came out of it. Prior to all of this, he was a chemist at Procter and Gamble. After all of that, he (briefly) worked as a post-doctoral assistant at Syracuse University, working on novel organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs). In between, he did NOT compete at the 1996 Olympics, make the Atlanta Braves opening day roster, or become the head coach of the Indiana Pacers, as he had intended. #fail During this entire time, he always loved helping students, especially if they were struggling with organic chemistry. In 2006, Dr. Pa founded in order to make learning organic chemistry fast and easy. 14 years and about 60,000 students later we are still helping students to learn organic chemistry one reaction at a time at