The Hydrolysis of Acetonitrile or Methyl Cyanide

Hydrolysis of acetonitrile (the adding of water to its triple bond) is a useful synthetic procedure. Alkali metals such as sodium (Na) and potassium (K) attached to the cyanide group (carbon and nitrogen joined by three bonds, ‒C≡N or -CN for short) is deadly poisonous. One factor making it so poisonous is most inorganic cyanides ionize in water. Dissolving cyanides separates the cation (for example, Na⁺) from the cyanide ion, ‒CN⁻. When an organic group is attached to ‒CN, the group is not ionized, even if the organic is water soluble. In such a case, the compound is called a nitrile. Nitriles are generally much safer to handle.* What some might call methyl cyanide, CH₃CN, is more accurately acetonitrile. Why acetonitrile? Hydrolysis of the ‒CN group produces acetic acid. Hydrolysis…
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