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One of two or more substances with identical molecular formulas but different configurations, differing only in the arrangement of their component atoms. It usually refers to stereoisomers (rather than constitutional isomers or tautomers; seeisomerism, tautomerism), of which there are two types. Optical isomers, or enantiomers (seeoptical activity), occur in mirror-image pairs. Geometric isomers are often the result of rigidity in the molecular structure; in organic compounds, this is usually due to a double bond (seebonding) or a ring structure. In the case of a double bond between two carbon atoms, if each has two other groups bonded to it and all are rigidly in the same plane, the corresponding groups can be on the same side (cis) of the CC bond or across the CC bond (trans) from each other. An analogous distinction can be made for ring structures that are all in a plane, between isomers whose substituent groups are on the same side and isomers whose substituent groups are on both sides of the plane. Diastereomers that are not enantiomers also fall into this category. Most cis-trans isomers are organic compounds.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on isomer, visit Britannica.com.