Determination of the absolute handedness, known as absolute configuration (AC), of chiral molecules is an important step in any field related to chirality, especially in the pharmaceutical industry. Vibrational optical activity (VOA) has become a powerful tool for the determination of the AC of chiral molecules in the solution state after nearly forty years of evolution. VOA offers a novel alternative, or supplement, to X-ray crystallography, permitting AC determinations on neat liquid, oil, and solution samples without the need to grow single crystals of the pure chiral sample molecules as required for X-ray analysis. By comparing the sign and intensity of the measured VOA spectrum with the corresponding ab initio density functional theory (DFT) calculated VOA spectrum of a chosen configuration, one can unambiguously assign the AC of a chiral molecule. Comparing measured VOA spectra with calculated VOA spectra of all the conformers can also provide solution-state conformational populations. VOA consists of infrared vibrational circular dichroism (VCD) and vibrational Raman optical activity (ROA). Currently, VCD is used routinely by researchers in a variety of backgrounds, including molecular chirality, asymmetric synthesis, chiral catalysis, drug screening, pharmacology, and natural products. Although the application of ROA in AC determination lags behind that of VCD, with the recent implementation of ROA subroutines in commercial quantum chemistry software, ROA will in the future complement VCD for AC determination. In this review, the basic principles of the application of VCD to the determination of absolute configuration in chiral molecules are described. The steps required for VCD spectral measurement and calculation are outlined, followed by brief descriptions of recently published papers reporting the determination of AC in small organic, pharmaceutical, and natural product molecules.

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