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What is organic chemistry?

Organic chemistry is the field of chemistry over the study of organic substances and compounds – that is, those that contain carbon in their molecular structure, combined with other elements such as hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur.

This type of chemistry focuses mainly on analyzing the structure, properties, behaviors, and uses of chemical compounds that help answer how life works in our environment. This, in turn, allows us to understand how chemical processes occur in living organisms, as well as how they operate at the molecular level.

Nucleic acids, enzymes, and proteins are organic substances since these are living compounds. By understanding their structure and molecular transformation, we can harness their full potential. This is only possible thanks to organic chemistry.

What is the origin of organic chemistry?

The term “organic chemistry” was first used in about 1807, when Swedish chemist Jöns Jacob Berzelius introduced it to explain the study of compounds derived from the living resources available in nature.

However, it was not until 1828 that German scientist Friedrich Wöhler experimented in laboratories with ammonium cyanate (an inorganic substance) and discovered that it could be converted into urea, an organic substance, through chemical processes. Through these experiments, he proved that organic matter could be synthesized in a laboratory without being linked to life, thus refuting Berzelius’s theory.

Later, in the year 1861, German chemist Friedrich August Kekulé von Stradonitz defined organic chemistry as the branch of chemistry dealing with carbon compounds; this was a pioneering move in putting carbon at the heart of this field.

Today, organic chemistry can be applied to almost any field, from transportation to food, the pharmaceutical industry, and genetics.

How are organic compounds classified?

There may be more than 50 million organic compounds, so classifying them is necessary to study them. They can be categorized by:

  1. Their origin:
    • Natural compounds: these originate from living beings or their waste.
    • Artificial or synthetic compounds: these can originate in a synthesized form in laboratories.
  2. Their structure:
    • Aliphatic compounds: these bond and form chains.
    • Aromatic compounds: these form rings with interspersed double bonds.
    • Organometallic compounds: these are made up of carbon atoms covalently bonded to one or more atoms of a metallic element.
    • Heterocyclic compounds: these form rings with other non-organic elements.
  3. Functional groups:
    • Alkanes, alkenes, and alkynes: their chemical structure is based on carbon and hydrogen, forming hydrocarbons. Alkanes are formed by single chemical bonds, alkenes by double bonds, and alkynes by triple bonds.
    • Alcohols: these are hydrocarbons where one hydrogen is replaced with a hydroxyl group. If there are several groups, these form polyalcohols.
    • Ketones: these compounds have a carbonyl group bonded to two carbon atoms.
    • Aldehydes: these are compounds whose structure includes a carbonyl group bonded to a hydrogen atom and another carbon atom.
    • Carboxylic acids: compounds with a carboxyl group.
    • Amines: compounds whose structure is based on the substitution of one or several hydrogens of the ammonia molecule.
  4. Their molecular weight or size:
    • Monomers: molecular units that are formed through chemical bonds and form macromolecules.
    • Polymers: macromolecules composed of monomers.

 What is the difference between organic chemistry and inorganic chemistry?

While both chemistries study chemical and molecular bonds, the difference lies in the elements they study. While organic chemistry studies compounds based on carbon and hydrogen, inorganic chemistry looks at all other chemical elements. There are inorganic compounds containing carbon and hydrogen; however, organic compounds are not possible without carbon.

Furthermore, inorganic chemistry studies compounds created synthetically with bonds involving electrostatic interactions, which are good conductors of heat and electricity; organic chemistry focuses on compounds formed by covalent bonds, meaning they share electrons in their atoms’ last energy levels.

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