Overview of Organic Chemistry
The very act of choosing the words to define or describe organic chemistry has been and can be a controversial action. We will take the rather simple approach that organic chemistry is the study of compounds which contain carbon. However, you should know that there are some carbon-containing compounds which are generally considered to be inorganic rather than organic. These include ionic compounds containing carbonate ions (CO3-2) and cyanide (CN-) ions, for example. Things like sodium carbonate (Na2CO3) and potassium cyanide (KCN) contain carbon but are not generally considered to be organic chemicals.
There is nothing inherently special about organic chemicals. They are made of the same atoms as inorganic chemicals. However, the particular nature of carbon atoms, specifically their valence and moderate electronegativity, allows them to form a wide variety of chemical compounds. These chemicals have enough in common with one another to be grouped together and called organic chemicals.
This idea of general unity of chemical compounds was not always the case. Some time ago it seemed that there were two fundamentally different kinds of chemicals. There were ordinary-type chemicals and there were special chemicals that had to do with life. These were chemicals that were found in and made only by living organisms. These special chemicals were classified as the organic chemicals and the study of them was called organic chemistry. The other, ordinary chemicals were called inorganic chemicals.
Biochemistry is the branch of chemistry which deals with the compounds and reactions that are intimately involved with the process of life. In this course we will not only try to teach you some biochemistry, but also try to lead you to the feeling that what you have learned in chemistry is very important to a more complete understanding of biological processes. I'm not sure that a complete understanding of the biological processes will necessarily ever be obtained, but the more we learn about them, the more chemical they become.
In the next several lessons you will study the chemistry of the wide variety of compounds which contain carbon, since that is what organic chemistry is. We will deal with the kinds of bonds that carbon atoms can form to other atoms of carbon and to atoms of other elements. We will deal with the geometric shapes that these molecules have, and we will deal with the chemical reactions and properties that portions of these compounds have.
The remaining pages in this section deal first with the atomic properties of carbon and the valences of carbon and other elements that combine with it to make organic compounds.
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