Diethyl ether, also known simply as ether, is the organic compound with the formula (C2H5)2O. It is a colorless and highly flammable liquid with a low boiling point and a characteristic odor. It is the most common member of a class of chemical compounds known generically as ethers. It is a common solvent and was once used as a general anesthetic. Ether is sparingly soluble in water (6.9 g/100 mL). Diethyl ether can be prepared both in laboratories and on an industrial scale by the acid ether synthesis. Ethanol is mixed with a strong acid, in this case sulfuric acid, H2SO4. The acid dissociates producing hydrogen ions, H+. A hydrogen ion protonates the electronegative oxygen atom of the ethanol, giving the ethanol molecule a positive charge: CH3CH2OH + H+ → CH3CH2OH2+ A nucleophilic oxygen atom of unprotonated ethanol displaces a water molecule from the protonated (electrophilic) ethanol molecule, producing water, a hydrogen ion and diethyl ether. CH3CH2OH2+ + CH3CH2OH → H2O + H+ + CH3CH2OCH2CH3 This reaction must be carried out at temperatures lower than 150 °C in order to ensure that an elimination product (ethylene) is not a product of the reaction. At higher temperatures, ethanol will dehydrate to form ethylene. The reaction to make diethyl ether is reversible, so eventually an equilibrium between reactants and products is achieved. Getting a good yield of ether requires that ether be distilled out of the reaction mixture before it reverts to ethanol, taking advantage of Le Chatelier's principle. Diethyl ether is prone to peroxide formation, and can form explosive diethyl ether peroxide. Ether peroxides are higher boiling and are contact explosives when dry.
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