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An innocent question. Do not smile!

  1. Mar 4, 2009 #1
    One boy asks me: why did they (chemists) classify chemistry into organic and inorganic ? It seems simple, but not really. Can anyone give me a clear explanation?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 4, 2009 #2

    Borek

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    I don't think there exist some simple answer. Most likely that's a historical thing. Early in the history of chemistry organic compounds were those found in organic matter (plants/animals) - and they were assumed to be impossible to synthetise in lab (look for vitalism). That have changed when Wöhler incidentally synthetised urea in 1828. Seems logical to me that the classification has been just kept afterwards, although the meaning has changed.
     
  4. Mar 4, 2009 #3

    alxm

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    Historic reasons, as Borek says, initially. Today you'd really have to add biochemistry as well.
    The distinctions have been kept because the study of the respective kinds of systems are pretty different.

    Apart from the obvious distinction between the compounds studied,
    Inorganic chemistry is:
    - Comparatively well-understood, its study is therefore more heavy on theory.
    - Deals a lot (relatively) with solid-state stuff, crystals, ligands, metal complexes
    Organic chemistry is:
    - More oriented towards synthesis (and is more experimental)
    - Deals almost exclusively with liquid state stuff

    What's funny is that the strict distinction no longer holds! A lot of current work in 'inorganic' chemistry is the study of metal-organic complexes and metalloenzymes. Because an inorganic chemist will generally have more to say about a metal atom bound to an organic molecule (e.g. iron in hemoglobin!) than an organic chemist does.
     
  5. Mar 4, 2009 #4

    turbo

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    The distinction is very blurred in some industrial processes, too. When I was a process chemist in a Kraft pulp mill, much of our work was directed toward increasing pulp yields out of the Kamyr digester. To do this, we had to model the breakdown of pulp chips in white liquor (primarily caustic) at various temperatures, pressures, liquor-extraction rates, etc. After the liquor was extracted (now called black liquor because of its color - loaded with lignin, tannin, etc) it had to be concentrated and burned in the chemical recovery boiler to recover the energy in the organics, and re-concentrate the inorganic material for reprocessing to form more white liquor. Neither branch of chemistry could claim ascendancy, though since the inorganic processes were better-understood, they were often the target of "tinkering" to improve efficiencies.
     
  6. Mar 4, 2009 #5
    Thanks all of you. I studied chemistry but never thought about this.
     
  7. Mar 17, 2009 #6
    Chemists used to erroneously believe that the organic compounds of organic chemistry could only be produced by organisms.
     
  8. Mar 17, 2009 #7

    turbo

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    That was disproved about 200 years ago, though it can take a while for scientific fads to die. :biggrin:
     
  9. Mar 17, 2009 #8
  10. Mar 18, 2009 #9
  11. Mar 18, 2009 #10

    Borek

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    Whish was already stated in the second post of the thread...
     
  12. Mar 28, 2009 #11
    My thought was because it is because organic compounds all have similar properties due to the fact that they all stem off of carbon chains. There are specific tests that will identify any ester, ketone, aldehyde, alcohol, etc.
    Perhaps they kept it because they felt they needed to keep the distinction because those categories needed a category?

    Either way I will say this, the IUPAC organic system makes learning about and dealing with said organic/bio chemicals much, much easier. I for one am happy with the distinction.

    Imagine if just every carbohydrate had a "normal" name. In this case, you would hear the name, and if you didn't know the structure, you would have too look it up in a book. However, with the system we have...you simply read the name and you can draw it out/figure it out.
     
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