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Infra-red Spectroscopy

Infra-red spectroscopy (IR) is an analytical technique that helps us:

identify functional groups and different bond types

Similar to mass spectroscopy in topic 7 we will be looking at organic molecules.

Only molecules with polar bonds absorb IR, so things like N2 and O2 dont.

Infra-red causes the bonds to stretch, bend and vibrate. The frequency of these stretches and vibrations
are measured by the machine and after some very clever maths, a spectrum is obtained with many peaks.

The Spectrum
Below is a typical infra-red spectrum. Each peak corresponds to a particular bond vibrating or stretching.

The x-axis is a scaled called wavenumber which is 1/wavelength and is a much nicer scale to work with
than wavelength:

C-H peak

Fingerprint region

There are 3 main regions that need to look at:

0-1500 cm-1

This is known as the fingerprint region. It is generally of no use! In this region all we have is lots of
different C-C and C-H vibrations and stretches. You cant tell anything from looking at it other than it is a

But! It can be mentioned in answers as:

the fingerprint region is unique for different molecules

If you had a spectrum that you knew for example was ethanol, you could compare your spectrum to it
and the fingerprint regions should match up.

Around 1700 cm-1

Carbonyl peaks (C=O) are seen around 1700. Thats about all you can tell from it. It is very difficult to
distinguish between aldehydes and ketones for example.

C=O peak

Around 3000 cm-1

Broad peaks from OH groups are seen at around or above 3000 cm -1. You can often distinguish between
carboxylic acid OH peaks and alcohol OH peaks.

OH peak

The OH peak is broad for an alcohol but is slightly further to the left for an acid and not as broad.
The sharp(ish) peak at around 3000 cm-1 is a C-H peak so all these moelcules will have it. Dont get
it confused with an OH peak.

OH peak
carboxylic acid

The OH peak for a carboxylic acid is very broad and overlaps with the C-H peak at around 3000 cm -1.

An OH peak and a C=O peak in the same spectrum does not necessarily mean it is a carboxylic acid.
You could have an alcohol and a ketone or aldehyde in the same molecule.

Exam Questions
You will be given a data sheet in the exam with all the above peaks (and more) listed. It is just worth
having an idea of what you are doing and not relying upon the data sheet.

Alcohols, aldehydes, ketones and carboxylic acids

A very common question involving IR is to give you a spectrum with an OH peak and then a second
spectrum where a carbonyl peak appears.

This is just looking at oxidation of alcohols. They might also throw in mass spectroscopy and any other
organic chemistry to identify the structure of a molecule.

the next most common peak is C=C at 1650 cm-1