In our latest blog post, we will go over what an organic molecule is. We talk about “organic” a lot. As mentioned in previous posts, organic means different things to different people. Some think of “organic” as being just being natural, while others require the rigorous standards put forth by the USDA.
When I hear organic, I think of the chemistry of the carbon atom. Organic Chemistry is the study of the carbon atom and the incredible variety of molecules made from it. Carbon, being in group 4 of the periodic table, has 4 valence electrons available for bonding. The simplest organic molecule is methane, in which the 4 electrons combine with the 4 available electrons on hydrogen to give CH4:
The key property of carbon is that it happily bonds to itself, forming carbon-carbon bonds and chains:
Not only can carbon form chains, it can also form rings and double bonds:
That’s not all. Carbon also enjoys bonding to other elements, especially nitrogen and oxygen:
All molecules of life (at least as we define it) are made of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen, with some sulfur and phosphorus thrown in. All plastics and polymers (poly-ester, poly-styrene, PVC) are carbon based, as well as all our fossil fuels. Indeed, most man-made carbon compounds begin as crude oil.
I’ve only talked thus far about simple molecules. Organic synthesis, as a profession, has been expanding the possibilities of carbon molecules for a century. Now the most complex molecules seen in the universe have been made by scientists.
In closing, here are several examples of complex organic molecules that have yielded to synthesis:
A synthetic chemist takes pride in the knowledge that they can make anything. If one can imagine a strange novel organic molecule, well, we’ll figure out how to make it. Organic synthesis is just like industrial construction: develop a plan, experiment, then implement. We are molecular engineers and constructors.
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