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Qwiz5 Quizbowl Essentials - Ethers

Ethers are a class of organic compounds formed when an oxygen atom bonds with two alkyl or aryl groups. Ethers are largely non-reactive colorless, pleasant-smelling liquids at room temperature. Although most famously used in early anesthetics, these compounds have many industrial applications as well.

Diagram of an ether.  Part of the Qwiz5 series by Qwiz Quizbowl Camp, written to help quiz bowl teams power more tossups!

By analyzing questions, you can see patterns emerge, patterns that will help you answer questions. Qwiz5 is all about those patterns. In each installment of Qwiz5, we take an answer line and look at its five most common clues. Here we explore five clues that will help you answer a tossup on Ethers.

WILLIAMSON SYNTHESIS Williamson Synthesis is a method of creating ethers. First discovered in 1851, the reaction is still one of the primary methods of synthesizing ethers. In the reaction, an alkoxide (an alcohol missing a proton) is reacted with an alkyl halide (also known as an organohalide) to form an ether. This is an SN2 reaction, which means that one chemical bond is broken and one is formed at the same time.

ULLMAN CONDENSATION Also known as an Ullman-type reaction, Ullman condensation is another method for synthesizing ethers. The process involves an organic compound called a phenol reacting with an aryl halide to form an aryl ether. This reaction is carried out with the assistance of a copper catalyst.

GRIGNARD REAGENTS Grignard Reagents are organic derivatives of magnesium. These organic compounds are highly reactive, but this reactivity is counterbalanced by the stability of ethers. Ethers can thus help a Grignard Reagent stay in a solution.

CROWN TYPE Crown ethers are a special form of ethers. Crown ethers are cyclic, meaning that the molecules of the ethers form a ring shape. Their name derives from the fact that in three-dimensional space the compound resembles a crown. Crown ethers are notable for bonding strongly to cations (ions with a positive charge).

DIETHYL ETHER Diethyl Ether is one of the most common ethers, which is currently used as a laboratory solvent. Diethyl ether was originally most commonly used as an anesthetic.


Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:

● There’s a lot more to ethers than meets the eye! To learn more about ethers, and why they behave the way they do, check out this Khan Academy video!

● Why are ethers so important? They have lots of applications. Check out this article for a handy overview of some of their many uses.

● Visit this site to learn more about the history of general anesthetics and how ether was used recreationally before its medicinal properties were discovered. (Don’t try this at home!)

● Curious about Grignard Reagents? This short video offers a very comprehensible answer as to why Grignard Reagents need to be formed in ether instead of in water.


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