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Fischer Projections

In the world of Chemistry, whether we’re talking about general chemistry, physical chemistry, or organic chemistry, we are dealing with a 3D world; however, it is difficult to teach a 3D concept using tools that can only depict 2D images (paper, chalk board, white board, etc.). The Fischer Projections allow us to represent 3D molecular structures in a 2D environment without changing their properties and/or structural integrity.



The Fischer Projection consists of both horizontal and vertical lines, where the horizontal lines represent the atoms that are pointed toward the viewer while the vertical line represents atoms that are pointed away from the viewer. The point of intersection between the horizontal and vertical lines represents the central carbon.

ethane dash-wedged=Fischer projections.gif

How to make Fischer Projections

To make a Fischer Projection, it is easier to show through examples than through words. Lets start with the first example, turning a 3D structure of ethane into a 2D fischer Projection. 

Example 1
Start by mentally converting a 3D structure into a Dashed-Wedged Line Structure. Remember, the atoms that are pointed toward the viewer would be designated with a wedged lines and the ones pointed away from the viewer are designated with dashed lines. 

3D ethane-convertion.jpgDashed-Wedged line Ethane.gif                                         

Figure A                                                       Figure B

Notice the red balls (atoms) in Figure A above are pointed away from the screen. These atoms will be designated with dashed lines like those in Figure B by number 2 and 6. The green balls (atoms) are pointed toward the screen. These atoms will be designated with wedged lines like those in Figure B by number 3 and 5. The blue atoms are in the plane of the screen so they are designated with straight lines.

Now that we have our Dashed- Wedged Line Structure, we can convert it to a Fischer Projection. However, before we can convert this Dashed-Wedged Line Structure into a Fischer Projection, we must first convert it to a “flat” Dashed-Wedged Line Structure. Then from there we can draw our Fischer Projection. Lets start with a more simpler  example. Instead of using the ethane shown in Figure A and B, we will start with a methane. The reason being is that it allows us to only focus on one central carbon, which make things a little bit easier. 


Figure C                                             Figure D

Lets start with this 3D image and work our way to a dashed-wedged image. Start by imagining yourself looking directly at the central carbon from the left side as shown in Figure C. It should look something like Figure D. Now take this Figure D and flatten it out on the surface of the paper and you should get an image of a cross.


As a reminder, the horizontal line represents atoms that are coming out of the paper and the vertical line represents atoms that are going into the paper. The cross image to the right of the arrow is a Fischer projection.


  • Shore, N. (2007). Study Guide and Solutions Manual for Organic Chemistry (5th Ed.). New York: W.H. Freeman. (182-186)

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16:27, 11 Dec 2013

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