19.3 Spectroscopic and magnetic properties of coordination compounds

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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
• Outline the basic premise of crystal field theory (CFT)
• Identify molecular geometries associated with various d-orbital splitting patterns
• Predict electron configurations of split d orbitals for selected transition metal atoms or ions
• Explain spectral and magnetic properties in terms of CFT concepts

The behavior of coordination compounds cannot be adequately explained by the same theories used for main group element chemistry. The observed geometries of coordination complexes are not consistent with hybridized orbitals on the central metal overlapping with ligand orbitals, as would be predicted by valence bond theory. The observed colors indicate that the d orbitals often occur at different energy levels rather than all being degenerate, that is, of equal energy, as are the three p orbitals. To explain the stabilities, structures, colors, and magnetic properties of transition metal complexes, a different bonding model has been developed. Just as valence bond theory explains many aspects of bonding in main group chemistry, crystal field theory is useful in understanding and predicting the behavior of transition metal complexes.

Crystal field theory

To explain the observed behavior of transition metal complexes (such as how colors arise), a model involving electrostatic interactions between the electrons from the ligands and the electrons in the unhybridized d orbitals of the central metal atom has been developed. This electrostatic model is crystal field theory    (CFT). It allows us to understand, interpret, and predict the colors, magnetic behavior, and some structures of coordination compounds of transition metals.

CFT focuses on the nonbonding electrons on the central metal ion in coordination complexes not on the metal-ligand bonds. Like valence bond theory, CFT tells only part of the story of the behavior of complexes. However, it tells the part that valence bond theory does not. In its pure form, CFT ignores any covalent bonding between ligands and metal ions. Both the ligand and the metal are treated as infinitesimally small point charges.

All electrons are negative, so the electrons donated from the ligands will repel the electrons of the central metal. Let us consider the behavior of the electrons in the unhybridized d orbitals in an octahedral complex. The five d orbitals consist of lobe-shaped regions and are arranged in space, as shown in [link] . In an octahedral complex, the six ligands coordinate along the axes.

In an uncomplexed metal ion in the gas phase, the electrons are distributed among the five d orbitals in accord with Hund's rule because the orbitals all have the same energy. However, when ligands coordinate to a metal ion, the energies of the d orbitals are no longer the same.

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