In his article, Professor Barton showed that organic molecules in general and steroid molecules in particular could be assigned a preferred conformation based upon results accumulated by chemical physicists, in particular by Odd Hassel.
His Nobel prize biography exlains more of the technical details: Having chosen a preferred conformation, it was demonstrated that the chemical and physical properties of a molecule could be interpreted in terms of that preferred conformation. In molecules containing fixed rings, such as the steroids, there resulted a simple relationship between configuration and conformation, such that configurations could be predicted once the possible conformations for the products of a reaction could be analysed. Thus the subject "conformational analysis" had begun. Barton later determined the geometry of many other natural product molecules using this method. Conformational analysis is useful in the elucidation of configuration, in the planning of organic synthesis, and in the analysis of reaction mechanisms. It will be fundamental to a complete understanding of enzymatic processes.