Curly arrows tell the truth about chemical reactions


Organic chemists can hold their heads up high, knowing that curly arrows now have a basis in “real” theory.

Recent work from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science, published in Nature Communications on Thursday, bridges the cultural gap between organic chemists and theoreticians that is embodied in the “curly arrow.”

The research team is led by UNSW Sydney Professor Timothy Schmidt and includes PEMS’s Dr Terry Frankcombe and Dr Philip Kilby from CSIRO’s Data61.

Organic chemists use curly arrows to depict the way chemical reactions occur and the resulting molecular structures. Theoreticians tend to talk about structure of molecules in terms of molecular orbital theory (wave theory) and say that curly arrows are a fiction. The paper unites disparate views of electronic structure for the first time, helping to connect theory with organic chemistry notation.

Read about this exciting breakthrough here.