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How to Separate Optical Isomers

Updated April 17, 2017

Optical isomers are an oddity in molecular science. Composed of similar agents but in separate orientations, optical isomers are non-superimposable, meaning they cannot be simply oriented in a new direction to match their corresponding "twin." They are classified as chiral elements, from a Greek word meaning "hand." The right and left hands are the best real-world examples of chiral items, meaning they are mirror images, but are not the same. Separating optical isomers requires extensive scientific know-how and tools.

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  1. Prepare your optical isomer solution. PatentStorm's "Optical Isomer Separation Method" suggests preparing "single enantiomers by first reacting the racemate with a diastereoisomeric catalyst/reactant." Boiled down, this means you prep the "playing field" of the compound with a catalyst to allow separation.

  2. Separate the diastereoisomeric compounds by placing the solution in solvents of different solubility. The compound and optical isomers being separated will require different solvents, depending on the compound's composition.

  3. Refract circularly polarised light to "enrich the preferred handedness of the enantiomers," PatentStorm suggests. The varying absorption of the light between the differently oriented molecules will separate the enantiomers from the racemate. It does this by using the "momentum transfer" of the light in those molecules absorbing to overcome the diffusion process.

  4. Tip

    Other methods involve chromatography columns, which separate directly optical isomers through a stationary phase. An antipode is used instead of a chiral selector, allowing an inverse elution order. Separating optical isomers is an extremely complicated procedure involving highly specific scientific education. It's wise to consult a professional to ensure the accuracy of your procedure.

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Things You'll Need

  • Diastereoisomeric catalyst/reactants
  • Solvents of varying solubility
  • Circularly polarised light

About the Author

Darren Bonaparte

Writing since 2004, Darren Bonaparte has been published in "AP Unique Magazine," "The Clause Newspaper," numerous e-books and the "San Gabriel Valley Examiner." He has a double Bachelor of Arts in journalism and theater Arts from Azusa Pacific University.

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