21/1 – Why Do Chemical Reactions Happen?

2021-2022 Summer
Immersion 1
Natural Sciences

Why do chemical reactions happen at all? How can we predict whether a reaction will take place or not? Why does one particular reaction happen and not numerous others instead? Can by any chance the outcome of the reaction be controlled in the latter case? How can we minimize the formation of unwanted byproducts e.g. when manufacturing a drug? These questions, although apparently distant from each other, all can be answered by studying the mechanism of chemical reactions.
The module offers a theoretical framework to describe any kind of chemical reaction, acid-base processes, ligand-protein binding and organic reactions alike. Two main aspects will be covered: reaction kinetics (how fast does a reaction happen?) and thermodynamics (to what extent does a reaction happen?), both of which can be easily visualized by potential energy surfaces. The module casts light on the mysterious concept of entropy, as well as on fundamental organic reaction mechanisms and on the ways the outcome of competing reactions can be controlled (with temperature, solvents etc.).
The module covers a number of core concepts in molecular sciences and thus serves as a solid theoretical foundation for students who are interested either in chemistry, engineering or life sciences.