Organic chemistry is the study of compounds that contain the element carbon. This is a wide ranging topic that overlaps with other sciences like biochemistry, medicine, and materials science. Organic chemists study the properties, structure, and chemical reactions of organic compounds.
Why is carbon important?
Carbon is the central element to all living organisms. It is the basis to all life on earth. By studying carbon and organic compounds, scientists can learn more about life, the human body, and how it works.
Most organic molecules are made up of long rings or chains of carbon atoms with atoms of other elements attached. Common elements besides carbon (C) that are found in organic compounds include hydrogen (H), oxygen (O), nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and sulfur (S). Some examples of organic molecules include:
Carbohydrates - Carbohydrates consist only of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. They include starches and sugars and play an important role in our daily lives.
Lipids - Lipids include fats and waxes. They are used for long term storage of energy in life forms.
Proteins - Proteins are made up of long chains of amino acids. Proteins play an important role in nearly every process that takes place in cells.
Nucleic Acids - Nucleic acids make up long chains of components such as DNA and RNA. DNA carries information such as genes for protein molecules to use. The RNA helps to move the DNA code from storage to where it can be used.
Types of Organic Compounds or Functional Groups
There are a number of types of organic compounds. Scientists divide these up into functional groups based on the type of element common to the group in addition to carbon. These groups have similar properties because they have similar molecules.
Hydrocarbons form a functional group of organic compounds that are composed of only hydrogen and carbon atoms. Within the group of hydrocarbons are other groups such as alkanes. Alkanes include ethane, propane, methane, and butane. A lot of these compounds are used for heating and cooking. Other groups of hydrocarbons are alkenes, and alkynes.
Other elements that carbon combines with to form organic compounds include oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorus, and boron.
Organic synthesis is the process of making organic compounds. Many of the products we use everyday are made from organic compounds produced in large factories. Examples of these include plastics, alcohols, rubber, and dyes.
What is the difference between organic chemistry and biochemistry?
We learned that organic chemistry is the study of compounds containing carbon. Biochemistry, on the other hand, is the study of chemical processes in biological systems. These two sciences often overlap as organic compounds play an important role in many chemical processes.
Interesting Facts about Organic Chemistry
Carbon occurs in its pure form in nature as graphite and diamond.
Around 18 percent of the human body is carbon atoms.
Charles Goodyear found that combining rubber with sulfur allowed the rubber to be more durable across temperatures.
Synthetic dyes made from organic compounds have allowed the manufacture of dyes rather than using plants for dyes.
DNA molecules are very long. If you stretched one out it would be about three feet long.