Osmium tetroxide


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Osmium tetroxide (additionally osmium(VIII) oxide) is the substance compound with the recipe OsO4. The compound is important for its numerous utilizations, in spite of its harmfulness and the uncommonness of osmium. It additionally has various irregular properties, one being that the strong is unstable. The compound is dull, yet most examples seem yellow. This is no doubt because of the presence of the pollution OsO2, which is yellow-earthy colored in shading.

Uses Osmium tetroxide

Organic synthesis of Osmium tetroxide

In organic synthesis OsO4 is widely used to oxidize alkenes to the vicinal diols, adding two hydroxyl groups at the same side (syn addition). See reaction and mechanism above. This reaction has been made both catalytic (Upjohn dihydroxylation) and asymmetric (Sharpless asymmetric dihydroxylation).

Osmium(VIII) oxide is also used in catalytic amounts in the Sharpless oxyamination to give vicinal amino-alcohols.

In combination with sodium periodate, OsO4 is used for the oxidative cleavage of alkenes (Lemieux-Johnson oxidation) when the periodate serves both to cleave the diol formed by dihydroxylation, and to reoxidize the OsO3 back to OsO4. The net transformation is identical to that produced by ozonolysis. Below an example from the total synthesis of Isosteviol.


Biological staining

OsO4 is a widely used staining agent used in transmission electron microscopy (TEM) to provide contrast to the image. As a lipid stain, it is also useful in scanning electron microscopy (SEM) as an alternative to sputter coating. It embeds a heavy metal directly into cell membranes, creating a high electron scattering rate without the need for coating the membrane with a layer of metal, which can obscure details of the cell membrane. In the staining of the plasma membrane, osmium(VIII) oxide binds phospholipid head regions, thus creating contrast with the neighbouring protoplasm (cytoplasm). Additionally, osmium(VIII) oxide is also used for fixing biological samples in conjunction with HgCl2. Its rapid killing abilities are used to quickly kill live specimens such as protozoa. OsO4 stabilizes many proteins by transforming them into gels without destroying structural features. Tissue proteins that are stabilized by OsO4 are not coagulated by alcohols during dehydration. Osmium(VIII) oxide is also used as a stain for lipids in optical microscopy. OsO4 also stains the human cornea.

A sample of cells fixed/stained with osmium tetroxide (black) embedded in epoxy resin (amber). The cells are black as a result of the effects of osmium tetroxide.

Polymer staining

It is also used to stain copolymers preferentially, the best known example being block copolymers where one phase can be stained so as to show the microstructure of the material. For example, styrene-butadiene block copolymers have a central polybutadiene chain with polystyrene end caps. When treated with OsO4, the butadiene matrix reacts preferentially and so absorbs the oxide. The presence of a heavy metal is sufficient to block the electron beam, so the polystyrene domains are seen clearly in thin films in TEM.

Osmium ore refining

OsO4 is an intermediate in the extraction of osmium from its ores. Osmium-containing residues are treated with sodium peroxide (Na2O2) forming Na2[OsO4(OH)2], which is soluble. When exposed to chlorine, this salt gives OsO4. In the final stages of refining, crude OsO4 is dissolved in alcoholic NaOH forming Na2[OsO2(OH)4], which, when treated with NH4Cl, to give (NH4)4[OsO2Cl2]. This salt is reduced under hydrogen to give osmium.

Buckminsterfullerene adduct

OsO4 allowed for the confirmation of the soccer ball model of buckminsterfullerene, a 60 atom carbon allotrope. The adduct, formed from a derivative of OsO4, was C60(OsO4)(4-tert-butylpyridine)2. The adduct broke the fullerene’s symmetry, allowing for crystallization and confirmation of the structure of C60 by X-ray crystallography.

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