An aromatic hydrocarbon (abbreviated as AH) or arene is a hydrocarbon, of which the molecular structure incorporates one or more planar sets of six carbon atoms that are connected by delocalised electrons numbering the same as if they consisted of alternating single and double covalent bonds. The term 'aromatic' was assigned before the physical mechanism determining aromaticity was discovered, and was derived from the fact that many of the compounds have a sweet scent. This sweet scent actually came from impurities in the compounds (which are not actually aromatic in the sense initially described). The configuration of six carbon atoms in aromatic compounds is known as a benzene ring, after the simplest possible such hydrocarbon, benzene. Aromatic hydrocarbons can be monocyclic or polycyclic.
Some non-benzene-based compounds called heteroarenes, which follow Hückel's rule, are also aromatic compounds. In these compounds, at least one carbon atom is replaced by one of the heteroatoms oxygen, nitrogen, or sulfur. Examples of non-benzene compounds with aromatic properties are furan, a heterocyclic compound with a five-membered ring that includes an oxygen atom, and pyridine, a heterocyclic compound with a six-membered ring containing one nitrogen atom.
Benzene, C6H6, is the simplest AH and was recognized as the first aromatic hydrocarbon, with the nature of its bonding first being recognized by Friedrich August Kekulé von Stradonitz in the 19th century. Each carbon atom in the hexagonal cycle has four electrons to share. One goes to the hydrogen atom, and one each to the two neighboring carbons. This leaves one to share with one of its two neighboring carbon atoms, which is why the benzene molecule is drawn with alternating single and double bonds around the hexagon.
Many chemists draw a circle around the inside of the ring to show six electrons floating around in delocalized molecular orbitals the size of the ring itself. This also accurately represents the equivalent nature of the six bonds all of bond order ~1.5. This equivalency is well explained by resonance forms. The electrons float above and below the ring, and the electromagnetic fields they generate keep the ring flat. General properties:
Benzene derivatives have from one to six substituents attached to the central benzene core. Examples of benzene compounds with just one substituent are phenol, which carries a hydroxyl group and toluene with a methyl group. When there is more than one substituent present on the ring, their spatial relationship becomes important for which the arene substitution patterns ortho, meta, and para are devised. For example, three isomers exist for cresol because the methyl group and the hydroxyl group can be placed next to each other (ortho), one position removed from each other (meta), or two positions removed from each other (para). Xylenol has two methyl groups in addition to the hydroxyl group, and, for this structure, 6 isomers exist.
Examples of benzene derivatives with alkyl substituents (alkylbenzenes):
Examples of other aromatic compounds:
The arene ring has an ability to stabilize charges. This is seen in, for example, phenol (C6H5-OH), which is acidic at the hydroxyl (OH), since a charge on this oxygen (alkoxide -O–) is partially delocalized into the benzene ring.
Some important arenes are the polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH); they are also called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons. They are composed of more than one aromatic ring. The simplest PAHs are benzocyclopropene (C7H6), benzocyclopropane (C7H8), benzocyclobutadiene (C8H6), and benzocyclobutene (C8H8). A simple synthesis of benzocyclopropene is published
Common examples are naphthalene with two fused rings, anthracene with three, tetracene with four, and pentacene with five linearly fused rings. Phenanthrene and triphenylene are examples of non-linear connections. More exotic examples are helicenes and corannulene.
These compounds are one of the most widespread organic pollutants, remaining on beaches and marine environmentals for a long time after an oil spill. Recent investigations have concluced that their toxicity is up to 100 times worse than first assumed.