A common question in the basic chemistry forum is, “where can I learn about organic chemistry”.
It was not easy coming from high school level general chemistry into organic chemistry, for many the most feared of all the experimental sciences. The strangest thing about the subject is that after studying it informally for around 7 years I really thought I understood it reasonably well until the day I started thinking like a chemist, that was when I realised I hardly comprehended the basics.
Thinking like a chemist is the point when you suddenly no longer see the chemistry as letters, symbols or raw data but actual 3D physical parts of the world around us. It’s the observation of the world around us that gave us organic chemistry.
The recognition of elementary composition and physical properties is fundamental to understanding chemical behaviour so here I am going to make an attempt to explain these fundamentals and behaviours starting with some background history.
In the beginning
The sixteenth and seventeenth century’s ushered in a new age of scientific thinking that washed away the mysticism and alchemy of the past, except for the belief that an “organic” substance derived from an organism was endowed with some kind of vital force of nature that a substance derived from an inanimate object was not.
Such is the relationship of the word organic to the word chemistry.
This belief that organically derived had superior quality’s to the synthetically derived was a great impatience to the evolution of organic chemistry.
Although this “vital force of nature” was debunked by Wohler in 1882 when he synthesised urea by heating the “inorganic” compound ammonium cyanate, some people still believe in vitalism to this day but fortunately they no longer have any power over the sciences.
The analytical scientific method
The invention of quantitative analysis of organic compounds by combustion evolved quickly into an accurate method of ascertaining the hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen composition of compounds.
This intern gave rise to the discovery and synthesis of thousands of new compounds.
It was the successful commercialisation of discovery and synthesis that drove rapid dissemination of the new analytical method in organic chemistry. This great expansion of the analytical scientific method sparked the industrial revolution and the modern era.
Breakthrough, The theory of structure
One small word for Berzelius, one giant leap for man kind…… “Isomerism”
TO BE CONTINUED….