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An aromatic hydrocarbon or arene (or sometimes aryl hydrocarbon) is a hydrocarbon with alternating double and single bonds between carbon atoms forming rings. The term 'aromatic' was assigned before the physical mechanism determining aromaticity was discovered, and was derived from the fact that many of the compounds have a sweet scent. The configuration of six carbon atoms in aromatic compounds is known as a benzene ring, after the simplest possible such hydrocarbon, benzene. Aromatic hydrocarbons can be monocyclic (MAH) or polycyclic (PAH).
Some non-benzene-based compounds called heteroarenes, which follows Hückel's rule (for monocyclic rings: when the number of its π-electrons equals 4n+2), are also called as aromatic compounds. In these compounds, at least one carbon atom is replaced by one of the heteroatoms oxygen, nitrogen, or sulfur. Examples of non-benzene compounds with aromatic properties are furan, a heterocyclic compound with a five-membered ring that includes an oxygen atom, and pyridine, a heterocyclic compound with a six-membered ring containing one nitrogen atom.
Benzene, C6H6, is the simplest aromatic hydrocarbon, and it was the first one recognized. The nature of its bonding was first recognized by August Kekulé in the 19th century. Each carbon atom in the hexagonal cycle has four electrons to share. One goes to the hydrogen atom, and one each to the two neighboring carbons. This leaves one to share with one of its two neighboring carbon atoms, which is why the benzene molecule is drawn with alternating single and double bonds around the hexagon.
The structure is also illustrated as a circle around the inside of the ring to show six electrons floating around in delocalized molecular orbitals the size of the ring itself. This also represents the equivalent nature of the six carbon-carbon bonds all of bond order ~1.5. This equivalency is well explained by resonance forms. The electrons are visualized as floating above and below the ring with the electromagnetic fields they generate acting to keep the ring flat.
The circle symbol for aromaticity was introduced by Sir Robert Robinson and his student James Armit in 1925 and popularized starting in 1959 by the Morrison & Boyd textbook on organic chemistry. The proper use of the symbol is debated; it is used to describe any cyclic pi system in some publications, or only those pi systems that obey Hückel's rule on others. Jensen  argues that in line with Robinson's original proposal, the use of the circle symbol should be limited to monocyclic 6 pi-electron systems. In this way the circle symbol for a 6c–6e bond can be compared to the Y symbol for a 3c–2e bond.
A reaction that forms an arene compound from an unsaturated or partially unsaturated cyclic precursor is simply called an aromatization. Many laboratory methods exist for the organic synthesis of arenes from non-arene precursors. Many methods rely on cycloaddition reactions. Alkyne trimerization describes the [2+2+2] cyclization of three alkynes, in the Dötz reaction an alkyne, carbon monoxide and a chromium carbene complex are the reactants.Diels-Alder reactions of alkynes with pyrone or cyclopentadienone with expulsion of carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide also form arene compounds. In Bergman cyclization the reactants are an enyne plus a hydrogen donor.
Another set of methods is the aromatization of cyclohexanes and other aliphatic rings: reagents are catalysts used in hydrogenation such as platinum, palladium and nickel (reverse hydrogenation), quinones and the elements sulfur and selenium.
Arenes are reactants in many organic reactions.
In aromatic substitution one substituent on the arene ring, usually hydrogen, is replaced by another substituent. The two main types are electrophilic aromatic substitution when the active reagent is an electrophile and nucleophilic aromatic substitution when the reagent is a nucleophile. In radical-nucleophilic aromatic substitution the active reagent is a radical. An example of electrophilic aromatic substitution is the nitration of salicylic acid:
In coupling reactions a metal catalyses a coupling between two formal radical fragments. Common coupling reactions with arenes result in the formation of new carbon-carbon bonds e.g., alkylarenes, vinyl arenes, biraryls, new carbon-nitrogen bonds (anilines) or new carbon-oxygen bonds (aryloxy compounds). An example is the direct arylation of perfluorobenzenes 
Cycloaddition reaction are not common. Unusual thermal Diels-Alder reactivity of arenes can be found in the Wagner-Jauregg reaction. Other photochemical cycloaddition reactions with alkenes occur through excimers.
Benzene derivatives have from one to six substituents attached to the central benzene core. Examples of benzene compounds with just one substituent are phenol, which carries a hydroxyl group, and toluene with a methyl group. When there is more than one substituent present on the ring, their spatial relationship becomes important for which the arene substitution patterns ortho, meta, and para are devised. For example, three isomers exist for cresol because the methyl group and the hydroxyl group can be placed next to each other (ortho), one position removed from each other (meta), or two positions removed from each other (para). Xylenol has two methyl groups in addition to the hydroxyl group, and, for this structure, 6 isomers exist.
The arene ring has an ability to stabilize charges. This is seen in, for example, phenol (C6H5-OH), which is acidic at the hydroxyl (OH), since a charge on this oxygen (alkoxide -O–) is partially delocalized into the benzene ring.
Poly-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), also known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, are potent atmospheric pollutants that consist of fused aromatic rings and do not contain heteroatoms or carry substituents. Naphthalene is the simplest example of a PAH. PAHs occur in oil, coal, and tar deposits, and are produced as byproducts of fuel burning (whether fossil fuel or biomass). As a pollutant, they are of concern because some compounds have been identified as carcinogenic, mutagenic, and teratogenic. PAHs are also found in cooked foods. Studies have shown that high levels of PAHs are found, for example, in meat cooked at high temperatures such as grilling or barbecuing, and in smoked fish.
They are also found in the interstellar medium, in comets, and in meteorites and are a candidate molecule to act as a basis for the earliest forms of life. In graphene the PAH motif is extended to large 2D sheets.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are lipophilic, meaning they mix more easily with oil than water. The larger compounds are less water-soluble and less volatile (i.e., less prone to evaporate). Because of these properties, PAHs in the environment are found primarily in soil, sediment and oily substances, as opposed to in water or air. However, they are also a component of concern in particulate matter suspended in air.
Natural crude oil and coal deposits contain significant amounts of PAHs, arising from chemical conversion of natural product molecules, such as steroids, to aromatic hydrocarbons. They are also found in processed fossil fuels, tar and various edible oils.
PAHs are one of the most widespread organic pollutants. In addition to their presence in fossil fuels they are also formed by incomplete combustion of carbon-containing fuels such as wood, coal, diesel, fat, tobacco, and incense. Different types of combustion yield different distributions of PAHs in both relative amounts of individual PAHs and in which isomers are produced. Thus, coal burning produces a different mixture than motor-fuel combustion or a forest fire, making the compounds potentially useful as indicators of the burning history. Hydrocarbon emissions from fossil fuel-burning engines are regulated in developed countries.
PAHs toxicity is very structurally dependent, with isomers (PAHs with the same formula and number of rings) varying from being nontoxic to being extremely toxic. Thus, highly carcinogenic PAHs may be small or large. One PAH compound, benzo[a]pyrene, is notable for being the first chemical carcinogen to be discovered (and is one of many carcinogens found in cigarette smoke). The EPA has classified seven PAH compounds as probable human carcinogens: benz[a]anthracene, benzo[a]pyrene, benzo[b]fluoranthene, benzo[k]fluoranthene, chrysene, dibenz(a,h)anthracene, and indeno(1,2,3-cd)pyrene.
PAHs known for their carcinogenic, mutagenic and teratogenic properties are benz[a]anthracene and chrysene, benzo[b]fluoranthene, benzo[j]fluoranthene, benzo[k]fluoranthene, benzo[a]pyrene, benzo[ghi]perylene, coronene, dibenz(a,h)anthracene (C20H14), indeno(1,2,3-cd)pyrene (C22H12) and ovalene.
High prenatal exposure to PAH is associated with lower IQ and childhood asthma. The Center for Children's Environmental Health reports studies that demonstrate that exposure to PAH pollution during pregnancy is related to adverse birth outcomes including low birth weight, premature delivery, and heart malformations. Cord blood of exposed babies shows DNA damage that has been linked to cancer. Follow-up studies show a higher level of developmental delays at age three, lower scores on IQ tests and increased behaviorial problems at ages six and eight.
Although the health effects of individual PAHs are not exactly alike, the following 17 PAHs are considered as a group in this profile issued by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR):
The simplest PAHs, as defined by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) (G.P Moss, IUPAC nomenclature for fused-ring systems), are phenanthrene and anthracene, which both contain three fused aromatic rings. Smaller molecules, such as benzene, are not PAHs.
PAHs may contain four-, five-, six- or seven-member rings, but those with five or six are most common. PAHs composed only of six-membered rings are called alternant PAHs. Certain alternant PAHs are called benzenoid PAHs. The name comes from benzene, an aromatic hydrocarbon with a single, six-membered ring. These can be benzene rings interconnected with each other by single carbon-carbon bonds and with no rings remaining that do not contain a complete benzene ring.
PAHs containing up to six fused aromatic rings are often known as "small" PAHs, and those containing more than six aromatic rings are called "large" PAHs. Due to the availability of samples of the various small PAHs, the bulk of research on PAHs has been of those of up to six rings. The biological activity and occurrence of the large PAHs does appear to be a continuation of the small PAHs. They are found as combustion products, but at lower levels than the small PAHs due to the kinetic limitation of their production through addition of successive rings. In addition, with many more isomers possible for larger PAHs, the occurrence of specific structures is much smaller.
PAHs possess very characteristic UV absorbance spectra. These often possess many absorbance bands and are unique for each ring structure. Thus, for a set of isomers, each isomer has a different UV absorbance spectrum than the others. This is particularly useful in the identification of PAHs. Most PAHs are also fluorescent, emitting characteristic wavelengths of light when they are excited (when the molecules absorb light). The extended pi-electron electronic structures of PAHs lead to these spectra, as well as to certain large PAHs also exhibiting semi-conducting and other behaviors.
Naphthalene (C10H8 constituent of mothballs), consisting of two coplanar six-membered rings sharing an edge, is another aromatic hydrocarbon. By formal convention, it is not a true PAH, though is referred to as a bicyclic aromatic hydrocarbon.
Aqueous solubility decreases approximately one order of magnitude for each additional ring.
Detection of PAHs in materials is often done using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry or liquid chromatography with ultraviolet-visible or fluorescence spectroscopic methods or by using rapid test PAH indicator strips.
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The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has designated 32 PAH compounds as priority pollutants. The original 16 are listed. They are naphthalene, acenaphthylene, acenaphthene, fluorene, phenanthrene, anthracene, fluoranthene, pyrene, benzo[a]anthracene, chrysene, benzo[b]fluoranthene, benzo[k]flouranthene, benzo[a]pyrene, dibenz(ah)anthracene, benzo[ghi]perylene, and indeno(1,2,3-cd)pyrene. This list of the 16 EPA priority PAHs is often targeted for measurement in environmental samples.
Although PAHs clearly are aromatic compounds, the degree of aromaticity can be different for each ring segment. According to Clar's rule (formulated by Erich Clar in 1964) for PAHs the resonance structure with the most disjoint aromatic п-sextets—i.e., benzene-like moieties—is the most important for the characterization of the properties.
|Phenanthrene (1)||Anthracene (2)||Chrysene (3)||Clar rule|
For example, in phenanthrene (1) one Clar structure has two sextets at the extremities, while the other resonance structure has just one central sextet. Therefore in this molecule the outer rings are firmly aromatic while its central ring is less aromatic and therefore more reactive. In contrast, in anthracene (2) the number of sextets is just one and aromaticity spreads out. This difference in number of sextets is reflected in the UV absorbance spectra of these two isomers. Phenanthrene has a highest wavelength absorbance around 290 nm, while anthracene has highest wavelength bands around 380 nm. Three Clar structures with two sextets are present in chrysene (3) and by superposition the aromaticity in the outer ring is larger than in the inner rings. Another relevant Clar hydrocarbon is zethrene.
In January 2004 (at the 203rd Meeting of the American Astronomical Society), it was reported that a team led by A. Witt of the University of Toledo, Ohio studied ultraviolet light emitted by the Red Rectangle nebula and found the spectral signatures of anthracene and pyrene (no other such complex molecules had ever before been found in space). This discovery was considered as a controversial confirmation of a hypothesis that as nebulae of the same type as the Red Rectangle approach the ends of their lives, convection currents cause carbon and hydrogen in the nebulae's core to get caught in stellar winds, and radiate outward. As they cool, the atoms supposedly bond to each other in various ways and eventually form particles of a million or more atoms. Witt and his team inferred that since they discovered PAHs—which may have been vital in the formation of early life on Earth—in a nebula, by necessity they must originate in nebulae. More recently, fullerenes (or "buckyballs"), have been detected in other nebulae. Fullerenes are also implicated in the origin of life; according to astronomer Letizia Stanghellini, "It’s possible that buckyballs from outer space provided seeds for life on Earth.” In September 2012, NASA scientists reported that PAHs, subjected to interstellar medium (ISM) conditions, are transformed, through hydrogenation, oxygenation and hydroxylation, to more complex organics - "a step along the path toward amino acids and nucleotides, the raw materials of proteins and DNA, respectively". Further, as a result of these transformations, the PAHs lose their spectroscopic signature which could be one of the reasons "for the lack of PAH detection in interstellar ice grains, particularly the outer regions of cold, dense clouds or the upper molecular layers of protoplanetary disks."
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