Stereoisomerism is a type of isomerism (structural arrangement of atoms) in which molecules have the same molecular formula and sequence of bonded atoms, but differ in the three-dimensional orientation of their atoms in space. This occurs when the molecule contains asymmetric carbon atoms or other rigid structures that prevent free rotation, leading to distinct spatial arrangements of groups of atoms around a central point. Stereoisomers can have different chemical and physical properties, such as optical activity, boiling points, and reactivities, due to differences in their shape and the way they interact with other molecules.
There are two main types of stereoisomerism: enantiomers (mirror-image isomers) and diastereomers (non-mirror-image isomers). Enantiomers are pairs of stereoisomers that are mirror images of each other, but cannot be superimposed on one another. Diastereomers, on the other hand, are non-mirror-image stereoisomers that have different physical and chemical properties.
Stereoisomerism is an important concept in chemistry and biology, as it can affect the biological activity of molecules, such as drugs and natural products. For example, some enantiomers of a drug may be active, while others are inactive or even toxic. Therefore, understanding stereoisomerism is crucial for designing and synthesizing effective and safe drugs.