A chemical formula is a concise way of expressing information about the atoms that constitute a particular chemical compound. It identifies each type of element by its chemical symbol and identifies the number of atoms of such element to be found in each discrete molecule of that compound. The number of atoms (if greater than one) is indicated as a subscript.
For example methane, a simple molecule consisting of one carbon atom bonded to four hydrogen atoms has the chemical formula:
and glucose with six carbon
atoms, twelve hydrogen
atoms and six oxygen
atoms has the chemical formula:
A chemical formula may also supply information about the types and spatial arrangement of bonds in the chemical, though it does not necessarily specify the exact isomer
. For example ethane
consists of two carbon atoms single-bonded to each other, each having three hydrogen atoms bonded to it. Its chemical formula can be rendered as CH3
. If there were a double bond between the carbon atoms (and thus each carbon only had two hydrogens), the chemical formula may be written: CH2
, and the fact that there is a double bond between the carbons is assumed. However, a more explicit and correct method is to write H2
. The two dots or lines indicate that a double bond connects the atoms on either side of them.
A triple bond may be expressed with three dots or lines, and if there may be ambiguity, a single dot or line may be used to indicate a single bond.
Molecules with multiple functional groups that are the same may be expressed in the following way: (CH3)3CH. However. this implies a different structure from other molecules that can be formed using the same atoms (isomers). The formula (CH3)3CH implies a chain of three carbon atoms, with the middle carbon atom bonded to another carbon:
and the remaining bonds on the carbons all leading to hydrogen atoms. However, the same number of atoms (10 hydrogens and 4 carbons, or C4H10) may be used to make a straight chain: CH3CH2CH2CH3.
The alkene 2-butene has two isomers which the chemical formula CH3CH=CHCH3 does not identify. The relative position of the two methyl groups must be indicated by additional notation denoting whether the methyl groups are on the same side of the double bond (cis or Z) or on the opposite size from each other (trans or E).
For polymers, parentheses are placed around the repeating unit. For example, a hydrocarbon molecule that is described as: CH3(CH2)50CH3, is a molecule with 50 repeating units. If the number of repeating units is unknown or variable, the letter n may be used to indicate this: CH3(CH2)nCH3.
For ions, the charge on a particular atom may be denoted with a right-hand superscript. For example Na+, or Cu2+. The total charge on a molecule may also be shown in this way. For example H3O+
Although isotopes are more relevant to nuclear chemistry than to conventional chemistry, different isotopes may also be indicated as a left-hand superscript in a chemical formula. For example, the radioactive phosphate ion is 32PO4-.
See also : periodic table, biochemistry.