A covalent bond is a chemical bond that involves the sharing of electron pairs between atoms. The stable balance of attractive and repulsive forces between atoms when they share electrons is known as covalent bonding.[better source needed] For many molecules, the sharing of electrons allows each atom to attain the equivalent of a full outer shell, corresponding to a stable electronic configuration.
Covalent bonding includes many kinds of interactions, including σ-bonding, π-bonding, metal-to-metal bonding, agostic interactions, bent bonds, and three-center two-electron bonds. The term covalent bond dates from 1939. The prefix co- means jointly, associated in action, partnered to a lesser degree, etc.; thus a "co-valent bond", in essence, means that the atoms share "valence", such as is discussed in valence bond theory.
In the molecule H
2, the hydrogen atoms share the two electrons via covalent bonding. Covalency is greatest between atoms of similar electronegativities. Thus, covalent bonding does not necessarily require that the two atoms be of the same elements, only that they be of comparable electronegativity. Covalent bonding that entails sharing of electrons over more than two atoms is said to be delocalized.
The term covalence in regard to bonding was first used in 1919 by Irving Langmuir in a Journal of the American Chemical Society article entitled "The Arrangement of Electrons in Atoms and Molecules". Langmuir wrote that "we shall denote by the term covalence the number of pairs of electrons that a given atom shares with its neighbors."
The idea of covalent bonding can be traced several years before 1919 to Gilbert N. Lewis, who in 1916 described the sharing of electron pairs between atoms. He introduced the Lewis notation or electron dot notation or Lewis dot structure, in which valence electrons (those in the outer shell) are represented as dots around the atomic symbols. Pairs of electrons located between atoms represent covalent bonds. Multiple pairs represent multiple bonds, such as double bonds and triple bonds. An alternative form of representation, not shown here, has bond-forming electron pairs represented as solid lines.
Lewis proposed that an atom forms enough covalent bonds to form a full (or closed) outer electron shell. In the methane diagram shown here, the carbon atom has a valence of four and is, therefore, surrounded by eight electrons (the octet rule), four from the carbon itself and four from the hydrogens bonded to it. Each hydrogen has a valence of one and is surrounded by two electrons (a duet rule) - its own one electron plus one from the carbon. The numbers of electrons correspond to full shells in the quantum theory of the atom; the outer shell of a carbon atom is the n=2 shell, which can hold eight electrons, whereas the outer (and only) shell of a hydrogen atom is the n=1 shell, which can hold only two.
While the idea of shared electron pairs provides an effective qualitative picture of covalent bonding, quantum mechanics is needed to understand the nature of these bonds and predict the structures and properties of simple molecules. Walter Heitler and Fritz London are credited with the first successful quantum mechanical explanation of a chemical bond (molecular hydrogen) in 1927. Their work was based on the valence bond model, which assumes that a chemical bond is formed when there is good overlap between the atomic orbitals of participating atoms. These atomic orbitals are known to have specific angular relationships between each other, and thus the valence bond model can successfully predict the bond angles observed in simple molecules.
Polarity of covalent bonds
Covalent bonds are affected by the electronegativity of the connected atoms. Two atoms with equal electronegativity will make nonpolar covalent bonds such as H–H. An unequal relationship creates a polar covalent bond such as with H−Cl.
There are three types of covalent substances: individual molecules, molecular structures, and macromolecular structures. Individual molecules have strong bonds that hold the atoms together, but there are negligible forces of attraction between molecules. Such covalent substances are usually gases, for example, HCl, SO2, CO2, and CH4. In molecular structures, there are weak forces of attraction. Such covalent substances are low-boiling-temperature liquids (such as ethanol), and low-melting-temperature solids (such as iodine and solid CO2). Macromolecular structures have large numbers of atoms linked in chains or sheets (such as graphite), or in 3-dimensional structures (such as diamond and quartz). These substances have high melting and boiling points, are frequently brittle, and tend to have high electrical resistivity. Elements that have high electronegativity, and the ability to form three or four electron pair bonds, often form such large macromolecular structures.
One- and three-electron bonds
Bonds with one or three electrons can be found in radical species, which have an odd number of electrons. The simplest example of a 1-electron bond is found in the dihydrogen cation, H2+. One-electron bonds often have about half the bond energy of a 2-electron bond, and are therefore called "half bonds". However, there are exceptions: in the case of dilithium, the bond is actually stronger for the 1-electron Li2+ than for the 2-electron Li2. This exception can be explained in terms of hybridization and inner-shell effects.
The simplest example of three-electron bonding can be found in the helium dimer cation, He2+. It is considered a "half bond" because it consists of only one shared electron (rather than two) in addition to one unshared electron on each atom; in molecular orbital terms, the third electron is in an anti-bonding orbital which cancels out half of the bond formed by the other two electrons. Another example of a molecule containing a 3-electron bond, in addition to two 2-electron bonds, is nitric oxide, NO. The oxygen molecule, O2 can also be regarded as having two 3-electron bonds and one 2-electron bond, which accounts for its paramagnetism and its formal bond order of 2. Chlorine dioxide and its heavier analogues bromine dioxide and iodine dioxide also contain three-electron bonds.
Molecules with odd-electron bonds are usually highly reactive. These types of bond are only stable between atoms with similar electronegativities.
There are situations whereby a single Lewis structure is insufficient to explain the electron configuration in a molecule, hence a superposition of structures are needed. The same two atoms in such molecules can be bonded differently in different structures (a single bond in one, a double bond in another, or even none at all), resulting in a non-integer bond order. The nitrate ion is one such example.
In organic chemistry, when a molecule with a planar ring obeys Hückel's rule, where the number of π electrons fit the formula 4n + 2 (where n is an integer), it attains extra stability and symmetry. In benzene, the prototypical aromatic compound, there are 6 π bonding electrons (n = 1, 4n + 2 = 6). These occupy three delocalized π molecular orbitals (molecular orbital theory) or form conjugate π bonds in two resonance structures that linearly combine (valence bond theory), creating a regular hexagon exhibiting a greater stabilization than the hypothetical 1,3,5-cyclohexatriene.
In the case of heterocyclic aromatics and substituted benzenes, the electronegativity differences between different parts of the ring may dominate the chemical behaviour of aromatic ring bonds, which otherwise are equivalent.
Certain molecules such as xenon difluoride and sulfur hexafluoride have higher co-ordination numbers than would be possible due to strictly covalent bonding according to the octet rule. This is explained by the three-center four-electron bond ("3c–4e") model in molecular orbital theory and ionic-covalent resonance in valence bond theory.
In three-center two-electron bonds ("3c–2e") three atoms share two electrons in bonding. This type of bonding occurs in electron deficient compounds like diborane. Each such bond (2 per molecule in diborane) contains a pair of electrons which connect the boron atoms to each other in a banana shape, with a proton (nucleus of a hydrogen atom) in the middle of the bond, sharing electrons with both boron atoms. In certain cluster compounds, so-called four-center two-electron bonds also have been postulated.
Valence bond theory
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After the development of quantum mechanics, two basic theories were proposed to provide a quantum description of chemical bonding: valence bond (VB) theory and molecular orbital (MO) theory.
In 1927, valence bond theory was formulated and it argues that a covalent bond forms when two valence electrons, in their respective atomic orbitals, work or function to hold two nuclei together, by virtue of effects of lowering system energies. Building on this theory, the chemist Linus Pauling published in 1931 what some consider one of the most important papers in the history of chemistry: "On the Nature of the Chemical Bond". In this paper, elaborating on the works of Lewis, and the valence bond theory (VB) of Heitler and London, and his own earlier works, Pauling presented six rules for the shared electron bond, the first three of which were already generally known:
- 1. The electron-pair bond forms through the interaction of an unpaired electron on each of two atoms.
- 2. The spins of the electrons have to be opposed.
- 3. Once paired, the two electrons cannot take part in additional bonds.
His last three rules were new:
- 4. The electron-exchange terms for the bond involve only one wave function from each atom.
- 5. The available electrons in the lowest energy level form the strongest bonds.
- 6. Of two orbitals in an atom, the one that can overlap the most with an orbital from another atom will form the strongest bond, and this bond will tend to lie in the direction of the concentrated orbital.
Building on this article, Pauling's 1939 textbook: On the Nature of the Chemical Bond would become what some have called the "Bible" of modern chemistry. This book helped experimental chemists to understand the impact of quantum theory on chemistry. However, the later edition in 1959 failed to adequately address the problems that appeared to be better understood by molecular orbital theory. The impact of valence theory declined during the 1960s and 1970s as molecular orbital theory grew in usefulness as it was implemented in large digital computer programs. Since the 1980s, the more difficult problems, of implementing valence bond theory into computer programs, have been solved largely, and valence bond theory has seen a resurgence.
Comparison of valence bond and molecular orbital theory
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In some respects, valence bond theory is superior to molecular orbital theory. When applied to the simplest two-electron molecule, H2, valence bond theory, even at the simplest Heitler-London approach, gives a much closer approximation to the bond energy, and it provides a much more accurate representation of the behavior of the electrons as chemical bonds are formed and broken. In contrast, simple molecular orbital theory predicts that the hydrogen molecule dissociates into a linear superposition of hydrogen atoms and positive and negative hydrogen ions, a completely unphysical result. This explains in part why the curve of total energy against interatomic distance for the valence bond method lies below the curve for the molecular orbital method at all distances and most particularly so for large distances. This situation arises for all homonuclear diatomic molecules and is particularly a problem for F2, where the minimum energy of the curve with molecular orbital theory is still higher in energy than the energy of two F atoms.
The concepts of hybridization are so versatile, and the variability, in bonding in most organic compounds, is so modest, that valence bond theory remains an integral part of the vocabulary of organic chemistry. However, the work of Friedrich Hund, Robert Mulliken, and Gerhard Herzberg showed that molecular orbital theory provided a more appropriate description of the spectroscopic, ionization and magnetic properties of molecules. The deficiencies of valence bond theory became apparent when hypervalent molecules (e.g. PF5) were explained without the use of d orbitals that were crucial to the bonding hybridisation scheme proposed for such molecules by Pauling. Metal complexes and electron deficient compounds (e.g. diborane) also appeared to be well described by molecular orbital theory, although valence bond descriptions have been made.
In the 1930s, the two methods strongly competed until it was realised that they are both approximations to a better theory. If we take the simple valence bond structure and mix in all possible covalent and ionic structures arising from a particular set of atomic orbitals, we reach what is called the full configuration interaction wave function. If we take the simple molecular orbital description of the ground state and combine that function with the functions describing all possible excited states using unoccupied orbitals arising from the same set of atomic orbitals, we also reach the full configuration interaction wavefunction. It can be then seen that the simple molecular orbital approach gives too much weight to the ionic structures while the simple valence bond approach gives too little. This can also be described as saying that the molecular orbital approach is too delocalised while the valence bond approach is too localised.
The two approaches are now regarded as complementary, each providing its own insights into the problem of chemical bonding. Modern calculations in quantum chemistry usually start from (but ultimately go far beyond) a molecular orbital rather than a valence bond approach, not because of any intrinsic superiority in the former but rather because the MO approach is more readily adapted to numerical computations. However, better valence bond programs are now available.
- Bonding in solids
- Bond order
- Coordinate Covalent Bond, also known as Dipolar Bond or Dative Covalent Bond
- Covalent Bond Classification (or LXZ notation)
- Covalent radius
- Disulfide bond
- Hydrogen bond
- Ionic bond
- Linear combination of atomic orbitals
- Metallic bonding
- Noncovalent bonding
- Resonance (chemistry)
- Shared pair
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