A molecule composed of n-atoms has 3n degrees of freedom, six of which are translations and rotations of the molecule itself. This leaves 3n-6 degrees of vibrational freedom (3n-5 if the molecule is linear). Vibrational modes are often given descriptive names, such as stretching, bending, scissoring, rocking and twisting. The four-atom molecule of formaldehyde, the gas phase spectrum of which is shown below, provides an example of these terms. If a ball & stick model of formaldehyde is not displayed to the right of the spectrum, press the view ball&stick model button on the right. We expect six fundamental vibrations (12 minus 6), and these have been assigned to the spectrum absorptions. To see the formaldehyde molecule display a vibration, click one of the buttons under the spectrum, or click on one of the absorption peaks in the spectrum.
Gas Phase Infrared Spectrum of Formaldehyde, H2C=O
View CH2 Symmetric Stretch
View C=O Stretch
View CH2 Scissoring
View CH2 Rocking
View CH2 Wagging
| Ball&Stick Model
The exact frequency at which a given vibration occurs is determined by the strengths of the bonds involved and the mass of the component atoms. For a more detailed discussion of these factors Click Here. In practice, infrared spectra do not normally display separate absorption signals for each of the 3n-6 fundamental vibrational modes of a molecule. The number of observed absorptions may be increased by additive and subtractive interactions leading to combination tones and overtones of the fundamental vibrations, in much the same way that sound vibrations from a musical instrument interact. Furthermore, the number of observed absorptions may be decreased by molecular symmetry, spectrometer limitations, and spectroscopic selection rules. One selection rule that influences the intensity of infrared absorptions, is that a change in dipole moment should occur for a vibration to absorb infrared energy. Absorption bands associated with C=O bond stretching are usually very strong because a large change in the dipole takes place in that mode.
Some General Trends:
i) Stretching frequencies are higher than corresponding bending frequencies. (It is easier to bend a bond than to stretch or compress it.)
ii) Bonds to hydrogen have higher stretching frequencies than those to heavier atoms.
iii) Triple bonds have higher stretching frequencies than corresponding double bonds, which in turn have higher frequencies than single bonds.
(Except for bonds to hydrogen).
The general regions of the infrared spectrum in which various kinds of vibrational bands are observed are outlined in the following chart. Note that the blue colored sections above the dashed line refer to stretching vibrations, and the green colored band below the line encompasses bending vibrations. The complexity of infrared spectra in the 1450 to 600 cm-1 region makes it difficult to assign all the absorption bands, and because of the unique patterns found there, it is often called the fingerprint region. Absorption bands in the 4000 to 1450 cm-1 region are usually due to stretching vibrations of diatomic units, and this is sometimes called the group frequency region.