In an attempt to understand the earliest events in the protein folding pathway, the complete sequence of French bean plastocyanin has been synthesized as a series of short peptide fragments, and the conformational preferences of each peptide examined in aqueous solution using proton n.m.r. methods. Plastocyanin consists largely of beta-sheet, with reverse turns and loops between the strands of the sheet, and one short helix. The n.m.r. experiments indicate that most of the peptides derived from the plastocyanin sequence have remarkably little propensity to adopt folded conformations in aqueous solution, in marked contrast to the peptides derived from the helical protein, myohemerythrin (accompanying paper). For most plastocyanin peptides, the backbone dihedral angles are predominantly in the beta-region of conformational space. Some of the peptides show weak NOE connectivities between adjacent amide protons, indicative of small local populations of backbone conformations in the a region of (phi,psi) space. A conformational preference for a reverse turn is seen in the sequence Ala65-Pro-Gly-Glu68, where a turn structure is found in the folded protein. Significantly, the peptide sequences that populate the alpha-region of (phi,psi) space are mostly derived from turn and loop regions in the protein. The addition of trifluoroethanol does not drive the peptides into helical conformations. In one region of the sequence, the n.m.r. spectra provide evidence of the formation of a hydrophobic cluster involving aromatic and aliphatic side-chains. These results have significance for understanding the initiation of protein folding. From these studies of the fragments of plastocyanin (this paper) and myohemerythrin (accompanying paper), it appears that there is a pre-partitioning of the conformational space sampled by the polypeptide backbone that is related to the secondary structure in the final folded state.