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Ethers are a class of organic compounds, where two alkyl or aryl groups are connected to an oxygen atom. The general formula for an ether is R–O–R for simple or symmetrical ethers or R–O–R' for mixed or unsymmetrical ethers.
With the exception of dimethyl ether and methyl ethyl ether, all ethers are liquids at room temperature. They have a characteristic odor, described as harsh, fruity.
Examples of ethers:
- Symmetrical ethers: Diethyl ether, diisopropyl ether
- Unsymmetrical ethers: Methyl tert-butyl ether
- Cyclic ethers: Tetrahydrofuran, 1,4-Dioxane, 2-methyltetrahydrofuran
One of the most known characteristics of ethers is their tendency to form explosive peroxides when stored for long periods of time in contact with air or oxygen. The reaction is accelerated by light, metal catalysts, and aldehydes. Ethers like dimethyl ether or methyl tert-butyl ether however, do not form peroxides.
Symmetric ethers are commonly prepared via acid catalyzed dehydration of alcohols.
Non-symmetric ethers are typically prepared via the Williamson ether synthesis.