/ben"zeen, ben zeen"/, n. Chem.
a colorless, volatile, flammable, toxic, slightly water-soluble, liquid, aromatic compound, C6H6, obtained chiefly from coal tar: used in the manufacture of commercial and medicinal chemicals, dyes, and as a solvent for resins, fats, or the like.
[1825-35; BENZ(OIC ACID) + -ENE]

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Simplest aromatic hydrocarbon (see aromatic compound), parent substance of a large class of chemical compounds.

It was discovered in 1825 by Michael Faraday. The chemical formula is C6H6; August Kekule von Stradonitz in 1865 was the first to propose the correct structure, a six-membered ring of carbon atoms, each with one hydrogen atom bonded to it (see bonding). Although benzene is often represented with alternating single and double bonds between carbon atoms, the electrons in the bonds are shared or delocalized in such a way as to make all carbon-carbon bonds alike. Benzene is a colourless, mobile liquid with a characteristic odour. An excellent solvent, it is also widely used as a starting material for many plastics, dyes, detergents, insecticides, and other industrial chemicals. Benzene is highly toxic, and long exposure may cause leukemia.

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 simplest organic, aromatic hydrocarbon and parent compound of numerous important aromatic compounds (aromatic compound). Benzene is a colourless liquid with a characteristic odour and is primarily used in the production of polystyrene. It is highly toxic and is a known carcinogen; exposure to it may cause leukemia. As a result, there are strict controls on benzene emissions.

Discovery of benzene
      Benzene was first discovered by the English scientist Michael Faraday (Faraday, Michael) in 1825 in illuminating gas. In 1834 German chemist Eilhardt Mitscherlich (Mitscherlich, Eilhardt) heated benzoic acid with lime and produced benzene. In 1845 German chemist A.W. von Hofmann (Hofmann, August Wilhelm von) isolated benzene from coal tar.

      The structure of benzene has been of interest since its discovery. German chemists Joseph Loschmidt (Loschmidt, Joseph) (in 1861) and August Kekule von Stradonitz (Kekule von Stradonitz, August) (in 1866) independently proposed a cyclic arrangement of six carbons (carbon) with alternating single and double bonds. Kekule subsequently modified his structural formula to one in which oscillation of the double bonds gave two equivalent structures in rapid equilibrium. In 1931 American chemist Linus Pauling (Pauling, Linus) suggested that benzene had a single structure, which was a resonance hybrid of the two Kekule structures.

Characteristics of benzene
      Modern bonding models (valence-bond and molecular orbital theories) explain the structure and stability of benzene in terms of delocalization of six of its electrons (electron), where delocalization in this case refers to the attraction of an electron by all six carbons of the ring instead of just one or two of them. This delocalization causes the electrons to be more strongly held, making benzene more stable and less reactive than expected for an unsaturated hydrocarbon. As a result, the hydrogenation of benzene occurs somewhat more slowly than the hydrogenation of alkenes (other organic compounds (organic compound) that contain carbon-carbon double bonds), and benzene is much more difficult to oxidize than alkenes. Most of the reactions of benzene belong to a class called electrophilic aromatic substitution (substitution reaction) that leave the ring itself intact but replace one of the attached hydrogens (hydrogen). These reactions are versatile and widely used to prepare derivatives of benzene.

      Experimental studies, especially those employing X-ray diffraction, show benzene to have a planar structure with each carbon-carbon bond distance equal to 1.40 angstroms (angstrom) (Å). This value is exactly halfway between the C=C distance (1.34 Å) and C—C distance (1.46 Å) of a C=C—C=C unit, suggesting a bond type midway between a double bond and a single bond (all bond angles are 120°). Benzene has a boiling point of 80.1 °C (176.2 °F) and a melting point of 5.5 °C (41.9 °F), and it is freely soluble in organic solvents, but only slightly soluble in water.

Uses of benzene
      At one time, benzene was obtained almost entirely from coal tar; however, since about 1950, these methods have been replaced by petroleum-based processes. More than half of the benzene produced each year is converted to ethylbenzene, then to styrene, and then to polystyrene. The next largest use of benzene is in the preparation of phenol. Other uses include the preparation of aniline (for dyes (dye)) and dodecylbenzene (for detergents (detergent)).

Francis A. Carey

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Universalium. 2010.

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  • benzene — n. a colourless carcinogenic volatile liquid found in coal tar, petroleum, etc., and used as a solvent and in the manufacture of plastics etc. Usage: Chem. formula: C6H6 Phrases and idioms: benzene ring the hexagonal unsaturated ring of six… …   Useful english dictionary

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