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Odd-electron molecules

We call molecules that contain an odd number of electrons free radicals . Nitric oxide, NO, is an example of an odd-electron molecule; it is produced in internal combustion engines when oxygen and nitrogen react at high temperatures.

To draw the Lewis structure for an odd-electron molecule like NO, we follow the same five steps we would for other molecules, but with a few minor changes:

  1. Determine the total number of valence (outer shell) electrons . The sum of the valence electrons is 5 (from N) + 6 (from O) = 11. The odd number immediately tells us that we have a free radical, so we know that not every atom can have eight electrons in its valence shell.
  2. Draw a skeleton structure of the molecule . We can easily draw a skeleton with an N–O single bond:
  3. Distribute the remaining electrons as lone pairs on the terminal atoms . In this case, there is no central atom, so we distribute the electrons around both atoms. We give eight electrons to the more electronegative atom in these situations; thus oxygen has the filled valence shell:
    A Lewis structure shows a nitrogen atom, with one lone pair and one lone electron single bonded to an oxygen atom with three lone pairs of electrons.
  4. Place all remaining electrons on the central atom . Since there are no remaining electrons, this step does not apply.
  5. Rearrange the electrons to make multiple bonds with the central atom in order to obtain octets wherever possible. We know that an odd-electron molecule cannot have an octet for every atom, but we want to get each atom as close to an octet as possible. In this case, nitrogen has only five electrons around it. To move closer to an octet for nitrogen, we take one of the lone pairs from oxygen and use it to form a NO double bond. (We cannot take another lone pair of electrons on oxygen and form a triple bond because nitrogen would then have nine electrons:)
    A Lewis structure shows a nitrogen atom, with one lone pair and one lone electron double bonded to an oxygen atom with two lone pairs of electrons.

Electron-deficient molecules

We will also encounter a few molecules that contain central atoms that do not have a filled valence shell. Generally, these are molecules with central atoms from groups 2 and 12, outer atoms that are hydrogen, or other atoms that do not form multiple bonds. For example, in the Lewis structures of beryllium dihydride, BeH 2 , and boron trifluoride, BF 3 , the beryllium and boron atoms each have only four and six electrons, respectively. It is possible to draw a structure with a double bond between a boron atom and a fluorine atom in BF 3 , satisfying the octet rule, but experimental evidence indicates the bond lengths are closer to that expected for B–F single bonds. This suggests the best Lewis structure has three B–F single bonds and an electron deficient boron. The reactivity of the compound is also consistent with an electron deficient boron. However, the B–F bonds are slightly shorter than what is actually expected for B–F single bonds, indicating that some double bond character is found in the actual molecule.

Two Lewis structures are shown. The left shows a beryllium atom single bonded to two hydrogen atoms. The right shows a boron atom single bonded to three fluorine atoms, each with three lone pairs of electrons.

An atom like the boron atom in BF 3 , which does not have eight electrons, is very reactive. It readily combines with a molecule containing an atom with a lone pair of electrons. For example, NH 3 reacts with BF 3 because the lone pair on nitrogen can be shared with the boron atom:

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Practice Key Terms 9

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Source:  OpenStax, Ut austin - principles of chemistry. OpenStax CNX. Mar 31, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11830/1.13
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